Orangutan survival is threatened by habitat loss and illegal killing. Most wild populations will disappear over the next few decades unless threats are abated. Saving orangutans is ultimately in the hands of the governments and people of Indonesia and Malaysia, which need to ensure that habitats of viable orangutan populations are protected from deforestation and well managed to ensure no hunting takes place. Companies working in orangutan habitat also have to play a much bigger role in habitat management. Although the major problems and the direct actions required to solve them-reducing forest loss and hunting-have been known for decades, orangutan populations continue to decline. Orangutan populations in Sumatra and Borneo have declined by between 2,280 and 5,250 orangutans annually over the past 25 years. As the total current population for the two species is some 60,000 animals in an area of about 90,000 km(2) , there is not much time left to make conservation efforts truly effective. Our review discusses what has and has not worked in conservation to guide future conservation efforts.
The orangutan is the world's largest arboreal mammal, and images of the red ape moving through the tropical forest canopy symbolise its typical arboreal behaviour. Records of terrestrial behaviour are scarce and often associated with habitat disturbance. We conducted a large-scale species-level analysis of ground-based camera-trapping data to evaluate the extent to which Bornean orangutans Pongo pygmaeus come down from the trees to travel terrestrially, and whether they are indeed forced to the ground primarily by anthropogenic forest disturbances. Although the degree of forest disturbance and canopy gap size influenced terrestriality, orangutans were recorded on the ground as frequently in heavily degraded habitats as in primary forests. Furthermore, all age-sex classes were recorded on the ground (flanged males more often). This suggests that terrestrial locomotion is part of the Bornean orangutan's natural behavioural repertoire to a much greater extent than previously thought, and is only modified by habitat disturbance. The capacity of orangutans to come down from the trees may increase their ability to cope with at least smaller-scale forest fragmentation, and to cross moderately open spaces in mosaic landscapes, although the extent of this versatility remains to be investigated.
The marked biogeographic difference between western (Malay Peninsula and Sumatra) and eastern (Borneo) Sundaland is surprising given the long time that these areas have formed a single landmass. A dispersal barrier in the form of a dry savanna corridor during glacial maxima has been proposed to explain this disparity. However, the short duration of these dry savanna conditions make it an unlikely sole cause for the biogeographic pattern. An additional explanation might be related to the coarse sandy soils of central Sundaland. To test these two nonexclusive hypotheses, we performed a floristic cluster analysis based on 111 tree inventories from Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. We then identified the indicator genera for clusters that crossed the central Sundaland biogeographic boundary and those that did not cross and tested whether drought and coarse-soil tolerance of the indicator genera differed between them. We found 11 terminal floristic clusters, 10 occurring in Borneo, 5 in Sumatra, and 3 in Peninsular Malaysia. Indicator taxa of clusters that occurred across Sundaland had significantly higher coarse-soil tolerance than did those from clusters that occurred east or west of central Sundaland. For drought tolerance, no such pattern was detected. These results strongly suggest that exposed sandy sea-bed soils acted as a dispersal barrier in central Sundaland. However, we could not confirm the presence of a savanna corridor. This finding makes it clear that proposed biogeographic explanations for plant and animal distributions within Sundaland, including possible migration routes for early humans, need to be reevaluated.
Knowledge about the biogeographic affinities of the world's tropical forests helps to better understand regional differences in forest structure, diversity, composition, and dynamics. Such understanding will enable anticipation of region-specific responses to global environmental change. Modern phylogenies, in combination with broad coverage of species inventory data, now allow for global biogeographic analyses that take species evolutionary distance into account. Here we present a classification of the world's tropical forests based on their phylogenetic similarity. We identify five principal floristic regions and their floristic relationships: (i) Indo-Pacific, (ii) Subtropical, (iii) African, (iv) American, and (v) Dry forests. Our results do not support the traditional neo- versus paleotropical forest division but instead separate the combined American and African forests from their Indo-Pacific counterparts. We also find indications for the existence of a global dry forest region, with representatives in America, Africa, Madagascar, and India. Additionally, a northern-hemisphere Subtropical forest region was identified with representatives in Asia and America, providing support for a link between Asian and American northern-hemisphere forests.