Animal Conformists

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Science  26 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6131, pp. 437-438
DOI: 10.1126/science.1237521

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More than 60 years ago, Kinji Imanishi speculated that if animals can learn from each other, they will inevitably develop different behaviors in different groups, resulting in “cultural” variation within the same species (1, 2). It was a simple proposal, but so far ahead of its time that few Western scientists paid attention. Only in the past few decades has animal culture taken off as a topic of research. Two reports in this issue give hints of the adaptive value of animal culture. On page 485, Allen et al. (3) show that the best explanation for the spreading of a new hunting technique among humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) is that they learn from each other, and on page 483, van de Waal et al. (4) report an innovative field experiment that manipulated the food preferences of wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) to give them an opportunity for social learning.