Are behavioral differences among wild chimpanzee communities genetic or cultural? An assessment using tool-use data and phylogenetic methods



Over the last 30 years it has become increasingly apparent that there are many behavioral differences among wild communities of Pan troglodytes. Some researchers argue these differences are a consequence of the behaviors being socially learned, and thus may be considered cultural. Others contend that the available evidence is too weak to discount the alternative possibility that the behaviors are genetically determined. Previous phylogenetic analyses of chimpanzee behavior have not supported the predictions of the genetic hypothesis. However, the results of these studies are potentially problematic because the behavioral sample employed did not include communities from central Africa. Here, we present the results of a study designed to address this shortcoming. We carried out cladistic analyses of presence/absence data pertaining to 19 tool-use behaviors in 10 different P. troglodytes communities plus an outgroup (P. paniscus). Genetic data indicate that chimpanzee communities in West Africa are well differentiated from those in eastern and central Africa, while the latter are not reciprocally monophyletic. Thus, we predicted that if the genetic hypothesis is correct, the tool-use data should mirror the genetic data in terms of structure. The three measures of phylogenetic structure we employed (the Retention Index, the bootstrap, and the Permutation Tail Probability Test) did not support the genetic hypothesis. They were all lower when all 10 communities were included than when the three western African communities are excluded. Hence, our study refutes the genetic hypothesis and provides further evidence that patterns of behavior in chimpanzees are the product of social learning and therefore meet the main condition for culture. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.