Food provisioning and stone handling tradition in Japanese macaques: a comparative study of ten troops



By addressing the influence of food provisioning on stone handling (SH), a behavioral tradition in Japanese macaques, this study contributes to the ongoing debate in cultural primatology by asking whether human intervention influences the emergence or propagation of behavioral traditions. SH is a form of object play consisting of the manipulation of stones by performing various behavioral patterns. We tested the hypothesis that the frequency of food provisioning affects the daily performance, form, and context of occurrence of SH by influencing a troop's feeding-related activity budget. We used a standardized observation procedure to investigate SH in ten troops of Japanese macaques. In troops provisioned several times a day, SH was more frequent, longer, and more prevalent during provisioning than nonprovisioning periods. These effects of provisioning were not significant in troops provisioned less frequently. SH was more frequently integrated with food-related activities in troops supplied with food several times a day than in the other troops. Food provisioning may be a key factor in the innovation and transformation phases of the SH tradition in Japanese macaques. Am. J. Primatol. 70:803–813, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.