Study suggests chimpanzee culture is female-driven

Thursday, April 1, 2010 - 3:05pm

Wired Science reports on a study that suggests females are the carriers of chimpanzee culture, rather than males. In an analysis of data from 7 communities of wild chimpanzees by scientists at Stockholm University,  researchers found that the number of cultural traits correlated with the number of females in the community, but not with the number of males. The long-term research they looked at included the ongoing study Jane Goodall began in 1960, at Gombe National Park in Tanzania.

The scientists argue that female chimpanzees are critical to culture because they use tools more frequently and spend more time with their young, passing along cultural skills and behaviors such as termite-fishing.

They note that these findings are not consistent with our understanding of the how diversity develops in human societies, which correlates to community size.

In a sobering warning, the researchers point out that future studies related to cultural transmission will be compromised by loss of wild chimpanzee groups. "If ever lower numbers of chimpanzees results in the transmission of a reduced number of cultural traits over generations and between communities, we risk losing an important possibility of understanding cultural evolution in our closest living relative."

Read the study on PLoS one.

Read about a Gombe study that showed girl chimpanzees learn differently than boys.

 

 Photo by Emily Wroblewski.

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