David Ehlers Smith

David Ehlers Smith


Email: 13146971@brookes.ac.uk

Thesis title: The conservation and ecology of Borneo’s endemic primates

Start year: 2014


Research topic

From 2007 to 2014 I have conducted research that contributes toward a synthesis of techniques to best inform conservation management schemes for the protection of endemic primates of the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. To achieve this, I have conducted predictive and ecological niche modelling of the distributional patterns of the Presbytis and Nycticebus genera; assessed land-use policies affecting their persistence likelihood, and reviewed the location and efficacy of the Protected Area Network (PAN) throughout their respective distributions; conducted population density surveys within an under-studied habitat (tropical peat-swamp forests) and a small but highly productive mast-fruiting habitat, and founded a monitoring programme of Presbytis rubicunda concerned with establishing the ecological parameters (including behavioural, feeding and ranging ecology) required to advise conservation programmes.

The predictive niche modelling of Nycticebus distribution and the assessment of the impacts that the land-use policies threatening genus Presbytis on Borneo in the face of unprecedented habitat destruction demonstrated that the current PAN does not provide effective protection for these species. Data from 27 months of fieldwork provided convincing evidence that the unique, non-mast fruiting characteristics of tropical peat-swamp forests on Borneo has a profound effect on the ecology of Presbytis monkeys. Specifically, my research has shown that a low variation in fruit availability appears to facilitate the highest case of frugivory in a primate with an adaptation for folivory, resulting in the largest home-range recorded in the genus and the longest day-range length in any “folivorous” primate as they search for fruit. I have highlighted the importance of conducting population surveys throughout habitat sub-divisions, as differing vegetation characteristics have strong limiting effects on the presence, absence and density of primates, which consequently have implications for conservation management. This synthesis of conservation biology techniques has improved our ability to effectively conserve these threatened primates in this global diversity hotspot. I am now combining seven of the publications that have arisen from this work for a PhD by Published Research at Oxford Brookes.


Borneo; Conservation Biology; Ecology; Langur; Niche Modelling; Nycticebus; Peat-swamp Forest; Presbytis; Primatology

General research interests

Conservation biology, primatology and rainforest ecology; population ecology, niche occupancy and modelling; responses of primate populations to anthropogenic disturbance

Work in progress

  • Ehlers Smith YC, Ehlers Smith DA, Seymour CL, Thébault E, FJF van Veen (in review). Response of avian diversity to agricultural habitat modification can be predicted from life-history traits and ecological attributes. Landscape Ecology
  • Ehlers Smith DA, Cattau ME, Supiansyah, Purwanto A, Husson SJ, Cheyne SM, Morrogh-Bernard HC, Shagara H, Limin SH, Harrison ME (in prep). The role of degraded and fragmented forests for endemic primate conservation: the case of Borneo’s tropical peat-swamp forests
  • Hilser HB, Ehlers Smith YC, Morrogh-Bernard HC, Cheyne SM, Ehlers Smith DA (in prep). The influence of socio-ecological factors on the gastro-intestinal parasites of sympatric primate species inhabiting Sabangau tropical peat-swamp forest
  • Morrogh-Bernard HC, Knott C, Ehlers Smith DA (in prep). Home-range placement among female kin orang-utans

Academic and professional training

  • MSc Primate Conservation, Oxford Brookes University, 2006–2007
  • BA Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University, 2001–2004

Scholarships and prizes

Monetary funding awards for the Sabangau Red Langur Research Project:

  • International Primatological Society Conservation Projects
  • Primate Conservation, Inc.
  • Chester Zoo and the North of England Zoological Society
  • Columbus Zoo and Aquariums

Other experience and professional activities

Since 2009, I have been directing the Sabangau Red Langur Research Project, an ecological monitoring programme of Presbytis rubicunda, an endemic colobine monkey of Borneo. We investigate the ecological parameters that inform conservation management decisions, and use the project as a platform for both training ecological interns and providing projects for undergraduate and post-graduate students’ theses. I also have a keen interest in avian distribution and ecology, and have led expeditions to survey bird populations in Borneo and South Africa.