Macaques, good forest gardeners
3/23/12

Faced with the highest deforestation rate of the planet, the tropical forests of South-East Asia can count on some of their inhabitants to ensure their natural regeneration, even in the most damaged areas. This applies to the northern pig-tailed macaque, which has been closely studied by a young PhD student of the University of Liège’s Primatology Research Group, in the Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. When left in peace, the primate is one of the best seed dispersers identified in these latitudes.

MacaqueTo ensure their long-term survival, tropical forests can count on a long list of precious allies, both of the feathered and furry kind. Bulbuls, pigeons, hornbills, but also bats, civets and various species of primates all indeed have this particularity of a diet based partly or wholly on fruits and they disperse seeds in a wide variety of areas, sometimes in places that are difficult to access. In South-East Asian  forests (from Burma to Indonesia to Thailand and Laos), the role of these frugivores in natural regeneration is all the more significant in that deforestation is more severe here than in the other tropical forests such as the Amazon and the Congo basin. It is important to precisely define the respective roles of each of these frugivores in order to better assess their potential as “gardeners of the forest”.

A task carried out by a young French researcher Aurélie Albert, who has just defended her thesis after spending three years at the Primatology Research Group in the University of Liège’s Faculty of Sciences , supervised by Marie-Claude Huynen. She devoted almost a year and a half to monitoring a troop of northern pig-tailed macaques (Macaca leonina) in the oldest national park in Thailand, Khao Yai, located in the center-east of the country, between 250 and 1326 meters of altitude. Even though many species of macaques are known for their ability to disperse seeds, practically almost nothing is known about this specific species as very few studies have been carried out on its ecology and behavior. Characterized by the spiral shape of the tail in younger animals, the species largely warranted such scientific interest because it is reputed to be semi-terrestrial. This means that in contrast with the gibbons, it spends little time in the trees, although it certainly climbs into them to eat safely (up to a height of thirty meters), but also makes frequent journeys on the ground which bring it into contact with different types of environment.

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