• 1 Anthropology Program, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI 54901, USA
  • 2 Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 1430 Ås, Norway
  • 3 Department of Anthropology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA
  • 4 Australian Research Center for Human Evolution, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  • 5 Borneo Futures, Bandar Seri Begawan, BE1518 Brunei Darussalam
  • 6 Department of Anthropology, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Program in the Environment, and School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA
  • 7 School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool L3 3AF, UK
  • 8 Sustainable Places Research Institute and School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
Sci Adv, 2018 06;4(6):e1701422.
PMID: 29963619 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701422


Conservation benefits from understanding how adaptability and threat interact to determine a taxon's vulnerability. Recognizing how interactions with humans have shaped taxa such as the critically endangered orangutan (Pongo spp.) offers insights into this relationship. Orangutans are viewed as icons of wild nature, and most efforts to prevent their extinction have focused on protecting minimally disturbed habitat, with limited success. We synthesize fossil, archeological, genetic, and behavioral evidence to demonstrate that at least 70,000 years of human influence have shaped orangutan distribution, abundance, and ecology and will likely continue to do so in the future. Our findings indicate that orangutans are vulnerable to hunting but appear flexible in response to some other human activities. This highlights the need for a multifaceted, landscape-level approach to orangutan conservation that leverages sound policy and cooperation among government, private sector, and community stakeholders to prevent hunting, mitigate human-orangutan conflict, and preserve and reconnect remaining natural forests. Broad cooperation can be encouraged through incentives and strategies that focus on the common interests and concerns of different stakeholders. Orangutans provide an illustrative example of how acknowledging the long and pervasive influence of humans can improve strategies to preserve biodiversity in the Anthropocene.

* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.