Traditions in spider monkeys are biased towards the social domain

Claire J. Santorelli, Colleen M. Schaffner, Christina J. Campbell, Hugh Notman, Mary S. Pavelka, Jennifer A. Weghorst, Filippo Aureli

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    43 Citations (Scopus)


    Cross-site comparison studies of behavioral variation can provide evidence for traditions in wild species once ecological and genetic factors are excluded as causes for cross-site differences. These studies ensure behavior variants are considered within the context of a species' ecology and evolutionary adaptations. We examined wide-scale geographic variation in the behavior of spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) across five long-term field sites in Central America using a well established ethnographic cross-site survey method. Spider monkeys possess a relatively rare social system with a high degree of fission-fusion dynamics, also typical of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and humans (Homo sapiens). From the initial 62 behaviors surveyed 65% failed to meet the necessary criteria for traditions. The remaining 22 behaviors showed cross-site variation in occurrence ranging from absent through to customary, representing to our knowledge, the first documented cases of traditions in this taxon and only the second case of multiple traditions in a New World monkey species. Of the 22 behavioral variants recorded across all sites, on average 57% occurred in the social domain, 19% in food-related domains and 24% in other domains. This social bias contrasts with the food-related bias reported in great ape cross-site comparison studies and has implications for the evolution of human culture. No pattern of geographical radiation was found in relation to distance across sites. Our findings promote A. geoffroyi as a model species to investigate traditions with field and captive based experiments and emphasize the importance of the social domain for the study of animal traditions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere16863
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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