Prior to this discovery, it was thought that chimpanzee nut-cracking behavior was confined to the region west of the N'Zo-Sassandra River in Cote d'Ivoire. Because there are no relevant ecological or genetic differences between populations on either side of this "information barrier," explain the researchers of the new study, the implication had been that nut-cracking is a behavioral tradition constrained in its spread by a physical barrier: It was absent to the east of the river because it had not been invented there. The new finding that chimpanzees crack open nuts more than 1700 km east of the supposed barrier challenges this long-accepted model. According to the authors of the study, the discontinuous distribution of the nut-cracking behavior may indicate that the original "culture zone" was larger, and nut-cracking behavior has become extinct between the N'Zo-Sassandra and Ebo. Alternatively, it may indicate that nut-cracking has been invented on more than one occasion in widely separated populations.
This is one of the first reports of tool use for Pan troglodytes vellerosus, the most
endangered and understudied chimpanzee subspecies. It highlights the necessity to preserve the rich array of cultures found across chimpanzee populations and communities, which represent our best model for understanding the evolution of hominid cultural diversity. As such, the new finding promises to both benefit research and inform the conservation of our closest living relative.
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