Complex leaf-gathering skills of mountain gorillas (Gorilla g. beringei): Variability and standardization

Authors

  • Richard W. Byrne,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Scottish Primate Research Group, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland
    • Department of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9JU, Scotland
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  • Jennifer M. E. Byrne

    1. Department of Psychology, Scottish Primate Research Group, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland
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Abstract

The skills that mountain gorillas use to deal with the stings, tiny hooks, and spines protecting common plant leaves in their diet were examined for variation within and between animals. Many elements of uni- and bimanual performance were identified, often involving delicate precision and coordination, and varying idiosyncratically, erch individual having a different set of preferred elements. Many of these elements are functionally equivalent, and all but one weaned animals showed full processing capability; the history of the one exception suggests that early experience with the task may be important. Gorillas' idiosyncrasy in manual skill elements is entirely consistent with trial-and-error learning at this level. By contrast, each individual uses very few techniques (structured sequences of elements) for most processing, and these techniques are the same across the population. Where animals deviate from this generalization, they largely employ the simpler technique normally used for undefended leaves. Lateralization increases from start to finish, consistent with a logical structure in which each stage has a laterality bias and each stage is sequentially dependent on the last. Variations from their commonest, techniques occur in all animals (on average, about nine variant techniques were recorded from each animal). The repertoire of techniques increases significantly with age, whereas the repertoire of elements does not. This points to an initial reliance on a single logical structuring that is well established by weaning (about 3.5 years), with subsequent development of the ability to vary the technique used so as to take advantage of variations in the environment. Standardization of logical organization, despite variability between different animals in individual elements and behavioral laterality, suggests that the logical ordering of elements and the interrelationships of processing stages is copied by program-level imitation. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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