Cornell University

Canaries in the Coal Mine: Bornean Ape Calls as Early-Warning Indicators of Anthropogenic Change

Thursday, February 20, 2020 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Mann Library, 102

Part of the Ronald and Janette Gatty series

Wendy M. Erb,  Postdoctoral Fellow, Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University

Borneo’s tropical forests belong to one of the most imperiled biodiversity hotspots on Earth, experiencing rapid destruction and degradation from human activities. A significant challenge for conservation research is to develop cost-efficient methods to detect and monitor ecological responses to anthropogenic change. One potential solution is to study species that are easily monitored and reflect the condition of their habitats. Borneo’s endangered apes – orangutans and gibbons – are not only iconic flagships for biodiversity conservation in Indonesia, but also effective indicators of environmental health. Since 2013, I have studied the behavior and ecology of Bornean orangutans, documenting the effects of fruit production, energy balance, and ambient temperatures on their behavior and acoustics. After working on the front lines to fight Borneo’s devastating 2015 wildfires, I am particularly interested in the health and conservation impacts of human activities, particularly fires and smoke. In 2018, I launched a study of gibbons and orangutans in a threatened Bornean landscape to examine the spatiotemporal dynamics of endangered populations in response to habitat variation and emerging threats – including logging, plantation development, gold mining, and urban expansion. Since both taxa produce high-amplitude vocalizations, I am using their calls as early-warning indicators of ecosystem change. Further, through interdisciplinary collaborative research, I work at the human-environment interface to examine the connections between anthropogenic disturbance, environmental change, and human and non-human primate well-being. By engaging local and international stakeholders through community outreach, training, and mentorship, I work toward generating a greater understanding of the consequences of habitat conversion and loss, and fostering sustainable management of forests for their human and non-human inhabitants.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, Southeast Asia Program, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Natural Resources, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Migrations, Sustainability

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James Nagy

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Wendy M. Erb

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Cornell University

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