Social network analysis shows direct evidence for social transmission of tool use in wild chimpanzees

Catherine Hobaiter*, Timothée Poisot, Klaus Zuberbuehler, William Hoppitt, Thibaud Gruber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

196 Citations (Scopus)
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Social network analysis methods have made it possible to test whether novel behaviors in animals spread through individual or social learning. To date, however, social network analysis of wild populations has been limited to static models that cannot precisely reflect the dynamics of learning, for instance, the impact of multiple observations across time. Here, we present a novel dynamic version of network analysis that is capable of capturing temporal aspects of acquisition-that is, how successive observations by an individual influence its acquisition of the novel behavior. We apply this model to studying the spread of two novel tool-use variants, "moss-sponging'' and "leaf-sponge re-use,'' in the Sonso chimpanzee community of Budongo Forest, Uganda. Chimpanzees are widely considered the most "cultural'' of all animal species, with 39 behaviors suspected as socially acquired, most of them in the domain of tool-use. The cultural hypothesis is supported by experimental data from captive chimpanzees and a range of observational data. However, for wild groups, there is still no direct experimental evidence for social learning, nor has there been any direct observation of social diffusion of behavioral innovations. Here, we tested both a static and a dynamic network model and found strong evidence that diffusion patterns of moss-sponging, but not leaf-sponge re-use, were significantly better explained by social than individual learning. The most conservative estimate of social transmission accounted for 85% of observed events, with an estimated 15-fold increase in learning rate for each time a novice observed an informed individual moss-sponging. We conclude that group-specific behavioral variants in wild chimpanzees can be socially learned, adding to the evidence that this prerequisite for culture originated in a common ancestor of great apes and humans, long before the advent of modern humans.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1001960
Number of pages12
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2014


  • Pan-troglodytes
  • Cultural transmission
  • Foraging techniques
  • Cumulative culture
  • Diffusion dynamics
  • Behavior
  • Communities
  • Evolution
  • Monkeys
  • Conformity


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