We examined mitochondrial DNA control region sequences of 73 Kinabatangan orangutans to test the hypothesis that the phylogeographical structure of the Bornean orangutan is influenced by riverine barriers. The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary contains one of the most northern populations of orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) on Borneo and is bisected by the Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah. Orang-utan samples on either side of the river were strongly differentiated with a high Phi(ST) value of 0.404 (P < 0.001). Results also suggest an east-west gradient of genetic diversity and evidence for population expansion along the river, possibly reflecting a postglacial colonization of the Kinabatangan floodplain. We compared our data with previously published sequences of Bornean orangutans in the context of river catchment structure on the island and evaluated the general relevance of rivers as barriers to gene flow in this long-lived, solitary arboreal ape.
Behavioural observations suggest that orang-utans are semi-solitary animals with females being philopatric and males roaming more widely in search of receptive partners, leading to the prediction that females are more closely related than males at any given site. In contrast, our study presents evidence for male and female philopatry in the orang-utan. We examined patterns of relatedness and parentage in a wild orang-utan population in Borneo using noninvasively collected DNA samples from animals observed to defecate, and microsatellite markers to assess dispersal and mating strategies. Surprisingly, resident females were equally as related to other resident females (mean r(xy) = 0.303) as resident males were to other resident males (mean r(xy) = 0.305). Moreover, resident females were more related to each other and to the resident males than they were to nonresident females, and resident males were more related to each other (and resident females) than they were to nonresident males. We assigned genetic mothers to 12 individuals in the population, while sires could be identified for eight. Both flanged males and unflanged males achieved paternity, similar to findings reported for Sumatran orang-utans.
We investigated the genetic structure within and among Bornean orang-utans (Pongo pygmaeus) in forest fragments of the Lower Kinabatangan flood plain in Sabah, Malaysia. DNA was extracted from hair and faecal samples for 200 wild individuals collected during boat surveys on the Kinabatangan River. Fourteen microsatellite loci were used to characterize patterns of genetic diversity. We found that genetic diversity was high in the set of samples (mean H(E) = 0.74) and that genetic differentiation was significant between the samples (average F(ST) = 0.04, P < 0.001) with F(ST) values ranging from low (0.01) to moderately large (0.12) values. Pairwise F(ST) values were significantly higher across the Kinabatangan River than between samples from the same river side, thereby confirming the role of the river as a natural barrier to gene flow. The correlation between genetic and geographical distance was tested by means of a series of Mantel tests based on different measures of geographical distance. We used a Bayesian method to estimate immigration rates. The results indicate that migration is unlikely across the river but cannot be completely ruled out because of the limited F(ST) values. Assignment tests confirm the overall picture that gene flow is limited across the river. We found that migration between samples from the same side of the river had a high probability indicating that orang-utans used to move relatively freely between neighbouring areas. This strongly suggests that there is a need to maintain migration between isolated forest fragments. This could be done by restoring forest corridors alongside the river banks and between patches.
Great apes are threatened with extinction, but precise information about the distribution and size of most populations is currently lacking. We conducted orangutan nest counts in the Malaysian state of Sabah (North Borneo), using a combination of ground and helicopter surveys, and provided a way to estimate the current distribution and size of the populations living throughout the entire state. We show that the number of nests detected during aerial surveys is directly related to the estimated true animal density and that a helicopter is an efficient tool to provide robust estimates of orangutan numbers. Our results reveal that with a total estimated population size of about 11,000 individuals, Sabah is one of the main strongholds for orangutans in North Borneo. More than 60% of orangutans living in the state occur outside protected areas, in production forests that have been through several rounds of logging extraction and are still exploited for timber. The role of exploited forests clearly merits further investigation for orangutan conservation in Sabah.