Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Culture in humans and apes has the same evolutionary roots

21.10.2011
Culture is not a trait that is unique to humans.

By studying orangutan populations, a team of researchers headed by anthropologist Michael Krützen from the University of Zurich has demonstrated that great apes also have the ability to learn socially and pass them down through a great many generations. The researchers provide the first evidence that culture in humans and great apes has the same evolutionary roots, thus answering the contentious question as to whether variation in behavioral patterns in orangutans are culturally driven, or caused by genetic factors and environmental influences.


Orang-Utan
Mure Wipfli, Anthropologisches Institut und Museum, Universität Zürich

In humans, behavioral innovations are usually passed down culturally from one generation to the next through social learning. For many, the existence of culture in humans is the key adaptation that sets us apart from animals. Whether culture is unique to humans or has deeper evolutionary roots, however, remains one of the unsolved questions in science.

About ten years ago, biologists who had been observing great apes in the wild reported a geographic variation of behavior patterns that could only have come about through the cultural transmission of innovations, much like in humans. The observation triggered an intense debate among scientists that is still ongoing. To this day, it is still disputed whether the geographical variation in behavior is culturally driven or the result of genetic factors and environmental influences.

Humans are not the only ones to exhibit culture
Anthropologists from the University of Zurich have now studied whether the geographic variation of behavioral patterns in nine orangutan populations in Sumatra and Borneo can be explained by cultural transmission. “This is the case; the cultural interpretation of the behavioral diversity also holds for orangutans – and in exactly the same way as we would expect for human culture,” explains Michael Krützen, the first author of the study just published in Current Biology. The researchers show that genetic factors or environmental influences cannot explain the behavior patterns in orangutan populations. The ability to learn things socially and pass them on evolved over many generations; not just in humans but also apes. “It looks as if the ability to act culturally is dictated by the long life expectancy of apes and the necessity to be able to adapt to changing environmental conditions,” Krützen adds, concluding that, “Now we know that the roots of human culture go much deeper than previously thought. Human culture is built on a solid foundation that is many millions of years old and is shared with the other great apes.”
Largest dataset for any great ape species
In their study, the researchers used the largest dataset ever compiled for a great ape species. They analyzed over 100,000 hours of behavioral data, created genetic profiles for over 150 wild orangutans and measured ecological differences between the populations using satellite imagery and advanced remote sensing techniques. “The novelty of our study,” says co-author Carel van Schaik, “is that, thanks to the unprecedented size of our dataset, we were the first to gauge the influence genetics and environmental factors have on the different behavioral patterns among the orangutan populations.” When the authors examined the parameters responsible for differences in social structure and behavioral ecology between orangutan populations, environmental influences and, to a lesser degree, genetic factors played an important role, proving that the parameters measured were the right ones. This, in turn, was pivotal in the main question as to whether genetic factors or environmental influences can explain the behavioral patterns in orangutan populations. “That wasn’t the case. As a result, we could prove that a cultural interpretation for behavioral diversity also holds true for orangutans,” van Schaik concludes.
Literature:
Michael Krützen, Erik P. Willems, and Carel P. van Schaik: Culture and Geographic Variation in Orangutan Behaviour, in: Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 21, first published online: October 20, 2011, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.09.01
Contacts:
Dr. Michael Krützen
Anthropological Institute & Museum
University of Zurich
Tel.: +41 635 54 12
Email: michael.kruetzen@aim.uzh.ch
Beat Müller
Media Relations
University of Zurich
Phone: +41 44 634 44 32
E-mail: beat.mueller@kommunikation.uzh.ch

Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
Further information:
http://www.uzh.ch

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Surprising similarity in fly and mouse motion vision
30.07.2015 | Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried

nachricht Intracellular microlasers could allow precise labeling of a trillion individual cells
30.07.2015 | Massachusetts General Hospital

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: On the crest of the wave: Electronics on a time scale shorter than a cycle of light

Physicists from Regensburg and Marburg, Germany have succeeded in taking a slow-motion movie of speeding electrons in a solid driven by a strong light wave. In the process, they have unraveled a novel quantum phenomenon, which will be reported in the forthcoming edition of Nature.

The advent of ever faster electronics featuring clock rates up to the multiple-gigahertz range has revolutionized our day-to-day life. Researchers and...

Im Focus: Superfast fluorescence sets new speed record

Plasmonic device has speed and efficiency to serve optical computers

Researchers have developed an ultrafast light-emitting device that can flip on and off 90 billion times a second and could form the basis of optical computing.

Im Focus: Unlocking the rice immune system

Joint BioEnergy Institute study identifies bacterial protein that is key to protecting rice against bacterial blight

A bacterial signal that when recognized by rice plants enables the plants to resist a devastating blight disease has been identified by a multi-national team...

Im Focus: Smarter window materials can control light and energy

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin are one step closer to delivering smart windows with a new level of energy efficiency, engineering materials that allow windows to reveal light without transferring heat and, conversely, to block light while allowing heat transmission, as described in two new research papers.

By allowing indoor occupants to more precisely control the energy and sunlight passing through a window, the new materials could significantly reduce costs for...

Im Focus: Simulations lead to design of near-frictionless material

Argonne scientists used Mira to identify and improve a new mechanism for eliminating friction, which fed into the development of a hybrid material that exhibited superlubricity at the macroscale for the first time. Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) researchers helped enable the groundbreaking simulations by overcoming a performance bottleneck that doubled the speed of the team's code.

While reviewing the simulation results of a promising new lubricant material, Argonne researcher Sanket Deshmukh stumbled upon a phenomenon that had never been...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

3rd Euro Bio-inspired - International Conference and Exhibition on Bio-inspired Materials

23.07.2015 | Event News

Clash of Realities – International Conference on the Art, Technology and Theory of Digital Games

10.07.2015 | Event News

World Conference on Regenerative Medicine in Leipzig: Last chance to submit abstracts until 2 July

25.06.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Surprising similarity in fly and mouse motion vision

30.07.2015 | Life Sciences

Efficient Infrared Heat Saves Time and Energy in the Manufacture of Motor Vehicle Carpets

30.07.2015 | Trade Fair News

Roentgen prize goes to Dr Eleftherios Goulielmakis

30.07.2015 | Awards Funding

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>