Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Bumblebees and chimpanzees can pass on their skills

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A common chimpanzee (Pan troglodyte).

Agence France-Presse

Bumblebees and chimpanzees can learn skills from their peers that are so complex that they could not have developed them alone, an ability previously considered unique to the human species , according to two studies published in the journals Natureand Nature Human Behavior.

The evolution of human culture would be based in part on the accumulation of #x27;innovations and their transmission through social learning, which improves performance from generation to generation. And to arrive at techniques so elaborate that an individual could not discover independently.

Imagine children dumped on a desert island. With any luck, they will be able to survive, but not learn to read and write on their own, summarizes Lars Chittka, professor of ethology at Queen Mary University of London and co-author of the study. by Nature (New window) (in English).

Several experiments have already demonstrated social learning abilities in animals. Thanks to which some of their behaviors can be perfected over time, suggesting that they possess a form of cumulative culture: cracking of nuts in chimpanzees, modifications of trajectories in pigeons…

But scientists do not exclude that these faculties can also emerge spontaneously, thanks to the existence of a zone of latent solutions in the brain.

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Researchers decided to do the test on bumblebees, social insects trained in laboratory training .

They subjected a first group to a sophisticated two-step course towards a sweet reward: first they had to push a blue tab which, once released, allowed them to push a second red tab and open the way to the sweet reward.

A tough test for the bumblebees since the first step led to nothing. They were asked for an apprenticeship without compensation, they hated it, Alice Bridges, doctor at Queen Mary University, co-author of the study, told AFP.

The unfortunate people struggled with the red tab, without understanding that they first had to unlock the blue one to get their pittance. Discouraged, they gave up.

To re-motivate the troops, the researchers introduced a temporary reward in the first phase, gradually withdrawn, which ultimately helped the participants solve the puzzle.

The demonstrators were then placed in pairs with naive peers unaware of the problem, who observed their guides before training individually. Result: 5 of the 15 observers completed both stages straight away, without any intermediate reward. We were so surprised, we almost went crazy in the lab!, remembers Alice Bridges.

The sample is certainly small, but The conclusion is clear: the task was exceptionally difficult and yet some bumblebees were able to accomplish it through social learning, says Alex Thornton of the University's Center for Ecology and Conservation. British Exeter, in a comment associated with the study.

This work is the first to demonstrate a phenomenon of cumulative culture in invertebrates, underline the authors.

A faculty which chimpanzees, our most close relatives, according to another study published in Nature Human Behavior (New window)r (in English), led by Edwin van Leewen of the University of ;Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Primates from the Chimfunshi sanctuary in Zambia had a peanut dispenser in their enclosure requiring the manipulation of a ball and a drawer, in three phases. A complex system inspired by natural behaviors, when chimpanzees arm themselves with tools – sticks – to collect termites.

For three months, 66 individuals explored the device without anyone understanding how it worked, a sign that it was not possible to do it alone. The researchers then successfully trained two chimpanzees so that they could disseminate their new skills within their groups.

After two months of observation, 14 naive primates mastered the device. And the more they looked at their demonstrators, the more quickly they managed to resolve the problem, specify the authors.

They concluded that chimpanzees use ;social learning to acquire skills that go beyond rudimentary tasks involving the latent solution zone.

For Alex Thornton, the strength of these two studies lies in what it reveals about humans, who tend to overestimate their abilities compared to other animals.

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