Distribution of a Chimpanzee Social Custom Is Explained by Matrilineal Relationship Rather Than Conformity


High-arm grooming is a form of chimpanzee grooming in which two individuals mutually groom while each raising one arm. Palm-to-palm clasping (PPC) is a distinct style of high-arm grooming in which the grooming partners clasp each other's raised palms. In wild communities, samples of at least 100 observed dyads grooming with raised hands showed PPC frequencies varying from <5% (M group, Mahale) to >30% dyads grooming (Kanyawara, Kibale), and in a large free-ranging sanctuary group, the frequency reached >80% dyads (group 1, Chimfunshi) [1, 2]. Because between-community differences in frequency of PPC apparently result from social learning, are stable across generations, and last for at least 9 years, they are thought to be cultural, but the mechanism of transmission is unknown [2]. Here, we examine factors responsible for individual variation in PPC frequency within a single wild community. We found that in the Kanyawara community (Kibale, Uganda), adults of both sexes varied widely in their PPC frequency (from <10% to >50%) and did not converge on a central group tendency. However, frequencies of PPC were highly consistent within matrilines, indicating that individuals maintained lifelong fidelity to the grooming style of their mothers. Matrilineal inheritance of socially learned behaviors has previously been reported for tool use in chimpanzees [3] and in the vocal and feeding behavior of cetaceans [4, 5]. Our evidence indicates that matrilineal inheritance can be sufficiently strong in nonhuman primates to account for long-term differences in community traditions.


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