Phylogenetic analyses of behavior support existence of culture among wild chimpanzees

Stephen J. Lycett*, Mark Collard, William C. McGrew

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)


Culture has long been considered to be not only unique to humans, but also responsible for making us qualitatively different from all other forms of life. In recent years, however, researchers studying chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have challenged this idea. Natural populations of chimpanzees have been found to vary greatly in their behavior. Because many of these interpopulation differences cannot be readily explained by ecological factors, it has been argued that they result from social learning and, therefore, can be regarded as cultural variations. Recent studies showing social transmission in captive chimpanzee populations suggest that this hypothesis is plausible. However, the culture hypothesis has been questioned on the grounds that the behavioral variation may be explained at a proximate level by genetic differences between subspecies. Here we use cladistic analyses of the major cross-site behavioral data set to test the hypothesis that the behavioral differences among the best-documented chimpanzee populations are genetically determined. If behavioral diversity is primarily the product of genetic differences between subspecies, then population data should show less phylogenetic structure when data from a single subspecies (P. t. schweinfurthii) are compared with data from two subspecies (P. t. verus and P. t. schweinfurthii) analyzed together. Our findings are inconsistent with the hypothesis that the observed behavioral patterns of wild chimpanzee populations can be explained primarily by genetic differences between subspecies. Instead, our results support the suggestion that the behavioral patterns are the product of social learning and, therefore, can be considered cultural.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17588-17592
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2007


  • Cladistics
  • Cultural transmission
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Social learning


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