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Thesis title: Orangutans in the New Frontier: Strategies for Survival in Altered Landscapes
Start year: 2017
Tropical rainforest across the world is rapidly being destroyed by an array of different anthropogenic disturbances. This human-led encroachment is impacting population numbers of great apes and causing dramatic population declines in their native habitats across Africa and South-East Asia. This has led us to the point where all great ape species are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
In Indonesia, conversion of primary rainforest into oil palm, mining, farming and other anthropogenic disturbance has meant orangutans and humans sometimes find themselves pitted against each other in the struggle for survival. This transition is one that has been severely detrimental to orangutan population numbers but the extent to which this affects orangutan behavioural flexibility is still poorly understood.
Exactly how great apes alter their behaviour in reaction to altered landscapes and their inherent risks remains uncertain but is of paramount importance for the long-term survival of animals whose ranges comprise of such habitats. Therefore it is necessary to investigate whether and how the survival prospects of orangutans could be improved in these areas. Thus this interdisciplinary study seeks to quantify this decrease by looking at disturbance (an oil palm concession) and the Bornean orangutan sub-species Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii.
To this end, the broad purpose of my research is to examine the survival strategies employed by orangutans in large scale monocultures such as oil palm plantations, and the extent of their behavioural plasticity.
My research will seek to ask new questions regarding orangutan survival strategies that have previously not be tested due to the nature of the environment in which I propose to work. This research differs from previous studies on great apes in altered landscapes as this field site is one continuous area of homogenous oil palm owned by one concession, and is not broken down into small-holdings. Therefore this provides a novel area of study as orangutans are faced with a larger and continuous habitat of oil palm monoculture.
This study will have a number of broad implications for great ape studies. Firstly it will fill in gaps on great ape behavioural flexibility; providing data on modifications to activity budgets, ranging behaviour and overall health in an altered environment. We will also be able to discover how much of an orangutan’s home range consists of plantation; if they are transient or permanent residents and how much they rely on this landscape.
Indonesia, primate conservation, orangutan, oil palm, anthropogenic disturbance, behaviour
Primate conservation, ethnoprimatology, anthropogenic disturbance and fragmentation, primate behavioural flexibility, human-primate interface, orangutan wounding patterns