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Chimps varied ‘culture’ matters for conservation, study says

As chimpanzee populations decline, and their habitats become fragmented from human disturbance, we can see a stark decline in chimpanzee behavioral diversity.

CHRISTINA LARSON: ‘As researchers learn more about Homo sapiens’ closest living genetic relatives, they are also discovering more about the diversity of behaviors within chimpanzee groups — activities learned, at least in part socially, and passed from generation to generation… Some chimpanzee groups are stone-throwers. Some use rocks to crack open tree nuts to eat. Others use sticks to fish for algae. These patterns are referred to as “traditions” — or even animal “culture.” In a new study , scientists argue that this diversity of behaviors should be protected as species themselves are safeguarded, and that they are now under threat from human disturbance.

“What we mean by ‘culture’ is something you learn socially from your group members that you may not learn if you were born into a different chimpanzee group,” said Ammie Kalan, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “As chimpanzee populations decline and their habitats become fragmented, we can see a stark decline in chimpanzee behavioral diversity,” said Kalan, co-author of the sweeping new study published in the journal Science… “Culture is not the tip of the iceberg for these great apes — some kind of nice luxury — but an intrinsic and essential part of their local adaptation,” Carel van Schaik, an anthropologist at the University of Zurich who was not involved in the new study…

The 10-year study, led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute and the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research, examines data on 144 chimpanzee communities in Africa and the occurrence of 31 specific behaviors, such as tool usage or rock throwing. The regions with the least human impact showed the greatest variety in chimp behaviors. But areas greatly altered by logging, road-building, climate change and other human activities showed markedly less behavioral diversity — an 88 percent lower probability of exhibiting all behaviors… “With the increase of human disturbance, chimps may not be able to live in such large groups anymore — and it has been shown that group size is connected with social learning,” said Hjalmar Kühl, also a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute and a co-author’. MORE…

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