As an increasing number of field studies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have achieved long-term status across Africa, differences in the behavioural repertoires described have become apparent that suggest there is significant cultural variation1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Here we present a systematic synthesis of this information from the seven most long-term studies, which together have accumulated 151 years of chimpanzee observation. This comprehensive analysis reveals patterns of variation that are far more extensive than have previously been documented for any animal species except humans8,9,10,11. We find that 39 different behaviour patterns, including tool usage, grooming and courtship behaviours, are customary or habitual in some communities but are absent in others where ecological explanations have been discounted. Among mammalian and avian species, cultural variation has previously been identified only for single behaviour patterns, such as the local dialects of song-birds12,13. The extensive, multiple variations now documented for chimpanzees are thus without parallel. Moreover, the combined repertoire of these behaviour patterns in each chimpanzee community is itself highly distinctive, a phenomenon characteristic of human cultures14 but previously unrecognised in non-human species.

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We thank T. Matsuzawa, G. Yamakoshi, H. Boesch, D. A. Collins, S. Kamenya, H.Matama, H. Mkono, E. Mpongo, J. Salala, M. Huffman, M. Kasagula, R. Nyundo, S. Uehara, K.Arnold, C. Assersohn, K. Fawcett, J. Kakura, Z. Kiwede, G. Muhumuza, N. Newton-Fisher, P.Pebsworth, E. Stokes, J. Tinka, A. Arcadi, C. Katongole, G. Isabiriye-Basuta, F. Mugurusi, M. Muller and M. Wilson for contributions to the database; D. A. Collins, D. I. Perrett and P. J. B. Slater for advice on the manuscript; and S. Smart for the graphics of Fig. 1.

Author information


  1. Scottish Primate Research Group, School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, KY16 9JU, St Andrews, UK

    • A. Whiten
  2. Gombe Stream Research Centre, P.O. Box 185, Kigoma, Tanzania

    • J. Goodall
  3. Department of Zoology and Department of Sociology, Gerontology and Anthropology, Miami University, Oxford, 45056, Ohio, USA

    • W. C. McGrew
  4. Laboratory of Human Evolution Studies, Kyoto University, 606-01, Kyoto, Japan

    • T. Nishida
  5. Institute of Biological Anthropology, Oxford University, 58 Banbury Road, OX2 6QS, Oxford, UK

    • V. Reynolds
  6. Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, 484-8506, Inuyama, Japan

    • Y. Sugiyama
  7. Centre Internationale de Recherche Médicales de Franceville, BP 769, Franceville, Gabon

    • C. E. G. Tutin
  8. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Stirling, FK9 4LA, Stirling, UK

    • C. E. G. Tutin
  9. Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, 02138, Massachussetts, USA

    • R. W. Wrangham
  10. Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Insellstrasse 22, 04301, Leipzig, Germany

    • C. Boesch


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Correspondence to A. Whiten.

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