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Well-travelled chimps more likely to pick up tools and innovate

Well-travelled chimps more likely to pick up tools and innovate

New Scientist

Image:  feverblue

Spot a tool-using chimpanzee in Uganda’s Budongo Forest, and you could probably say it’s come a long way – in more ways than one. Chimps here are more likely to make use of tools to gather food if they have used up precious energy reserves travelling in the previous week.

The finding suggests that balancing energy needs might push apes into experimenting with tools, with possible implications for understanding what drove our ancestors to develop technology.

One explanation of tool use in animals is that it starts by chance and then spreads through a population by social learning.

An alternative view is that ecological factors nudge animals into trying tools, with two main theories of how it happens. One is that animals may be forced to try out tool use to exploit new food sources when they are low on energy – if their preferred foods are in short supply, for instance. The other is that animals may be tempted into innovating after encountering new foods that they can only access with tools.

Thibaud Gruber at the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, weighed up these two ecological ideas. He and his colleagues have spent several years studying a community of 70 chimps in the Budongo Forest that rarely use tools to forage. Read more on…