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Field experiments find no evidence that chimpanzee nut cracking can be independently innovated

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Abstract

Cumulative culture has been claimed a hallmark of human evolution. Yet, the uniqueness of human culture is heavily debated. The zone of latent solutions hypothesis states that only humans have cultural forms that require form-copying social learning and are culture-dependent. Non-human ape cultural behaviours are considered ‘latent solutions’, which can be independently (re-)innovated. Others claim that chimpanzees, like humans, have cumulative culture. Here, we use field experiments at Seringbara (Nimba Mountains, Guinea) to test whether chimpanzee nut cracking can be individually (re-)innovated. We provided: (1) palm nuts and stones, (2) palm fruit bunch, (3) cracked palm nuts and (4) Coula nuts and stones. Chimpanzee parties visited (n = 35) and explored (n = 11) the experiments but no nut cracking occurred. In these experiments, chimpanzees did not individually (re-)innovate nut cracking under ecologically valid conditions. Our null results are consistent with the hypothesis that chimpanzee nut cracking is a product of social learning.

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Fig. 1: Experimental setup of the nut-cracking experiments.
Fig. 2: Chimpanzees visit nut-cracking experiment.
Fig. 3: Experimental site visits and exploration.

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Data availability

The data for this study are included in Supplementary Table 1. Source data are provided with this paper.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the DGERSIT and the IREB in Guinea for research authorization; research assistants, K. Doré, F. Doré, F. Zogbila, N. Doré, D. Zogbila, Y. Zogbila, C. Samy, N. Gbouomy and M. O’Reilly for help in the field; and R. Lavooij for technical support. We thank R. Wrangham and S. Koski for helpful comments on the manuscript. Research was supported by grants from the Lucie Burgers Foundation for Comparative Behaviour Research (the Netherlands), Gates Cambridge Trust (Cambridge, UK), Homerton College and Newnham College (Cambridge, UK) to K.K. and by MEXT (grant nos. 12002009, 16002001, 20002001, 24000001 and 16H06283) to T.M. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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K.K. conceived of the study, designed and coordinated the study, collected data, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. H.C. collected data and commented on the manuscript. A.G.S. participated in coordination of the study and commented on the manuscript. K.L. collected data and commented on the manuscript. T.M. participated in design of the study and commented on the manuscript. All authors gave final approval for publication and agree to be held accountable for the work performed therein.

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Correspondence to Kathelijne Koops.

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Nature Human Behaviour thanks Ammie Kalan and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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41562_2021_1272_MOESM2_ESM.mp4

Supplementary Video 1. Chimpanzees visit nut-cracking experiment. Chimpanzees (2 adult males, 1 adult female, 1 adolescent male) in the Nimba Mountains, Guinea, visiting and exploring experiment 1 (stones, palm nuts) during the first visit.

Supplementary Table 1. Information on chimpanzee parties visiting the nut-cracking experiments.

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Koops, K., Soumah, A.G., van Leeuwen, K.L. et al. Field experiments find no evidence that chimpanzee nut cracking can be independently innovated. Nat Hum Behav 6, 487–494 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01272-9

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