Social learning of diet and foraging skills by wild immature Bornean orangutans: implications for culture

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Abstract

Studies of social learning in the wild are important to complement findings from experiments in captivity. In this field study, immature Bornean orangutans rarely foraged independently but consistently followed their mothers' choices. Their diets were essentially identical to their mothers' even though not all mothers had the same diet. This suggests vertical transmission of diet by enhancement. Also, immatures selectively observed their mothers during extractive foraging, which increased goal-directed practice but not general manipulation of similar objects, suggesting observational forms of learning of complex skills. Teaching was not observed. These results are consistent with the reported presence of food traditions and skill cultures in wild orangutans. We suggest that food traditions can develop wherever association commonly allows for social learning. However, the capacity for observational learning, and thus more complex culture, is more likely to evolve among extractive foragers with prolonged association between adults and immatures. Am. J. Primatol. 72:62–71, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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