Teaching varies with task complexity in wild chimpanzees

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Musgrave, Stephanie; Lonsdorf, Elizabeth; Morgan, David; Prestipino, Madison; Bernstein-Kurtycz, Laura; Mundry, Roger; Sanz, Crickette
Year of Publication: 2019
Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Pagination: 201907476
Date Published: 2019/12/18
Publication Language: eng

Understanding social influences on how apes acquire tool behaviors can help us model the evolution of culture and technology in humans. Humans scaffold novice tool skills with diverse strategies, including the transfer of tools between individuals. Chimpanzees transfer tools, and this behavior meets criteria for teaching. However, it is unclear how task complexity relates to this form of helping. Here, we find differences between 2 wild chimpanzee populations in rate, probability, and types of tool transfer during termite gathering. Chimpanzees showed greater helping in the population where termite gathering is a more complex tool task. In wild chimpanzees, as in humans, regular and active provisioning of learning opportunities may be essential to the cultural transmission of complex skills.Cumulative culture is a transformative force in human evolution, but the social underpinnings of this capacity are debated. Identifying social influences on how chimpanzees acquire tool tasks of differing complexity may help illuminate the evolutionary origins of technology in our own lineage. Humans routinely transfer tools to novices to scaffold their skill development. While tool transfers occur in wild chimpanzees and fulfill criteria for teaching, it is unknown whether this form of helping varies between populations and across tasks. Applying standardized methods, we compared tool transfers during termite gathering by chimpanzees in the Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo, and in Gombe, Tanzania. At Goualougo, chimpanzees use multiple, different tool types sequentially, choose specific raw materials, and perform modifications that improve tool efficiency, which could make it challenging for novices to manufacture suitable tools. Termite gathering at Gombe involves a single tool type, fishing probes, which can be manufactured from various materials. Multiple measures indicated population differences in tool-transfer behavior. The rate of transfers and probability of transfer upon request were significantly higher at Goualougo, while resistance to transfers was significantly higher at Gombe. Active transfers of tools in which possessors moved to facilitate possession change upon request occurred only at Goualougo, where they were the most common transfer type. At Gombe, tool requests were typically refused. We suggest that these population differences in tool-transfer behavior may relate to task complexity and that active helping plays an enhanced role in the cultural transmission of complex technology in wild apes.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1907476116
Short Title: Proc Natl Acad Sci USA