Macaques (Macaca species) is a common sight in Asian countries. Due to anthropogenic landscape modification, these monkeys come into closer and closer contact to human agriculture or habitation.
Oil palm plantations and pig-tailed macaques
In Peninsular Malaysia, more and more primary forests are being converted to oil palm plantations. As the pig-tailed macaques ‘normal’ habitat (=primary forests) shrink, the macaques can be seen these days foraging more and more in oil palm plantations.
Dr Nadine Ruppert, a primatologist from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and her research team followed a group of pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) that were seen in both primary forest and oil palm plantation for over 2 years period. They use GPS data and record the macaques’ activity budgets (doing what where?), their habitat use, and diet in both of the habitat types.
Oil palm plantation for food and forest for ‘home’
What the researchers found is that this group of macaques spent most of the time on the ground and looking for food when they are in the plantation habitat. In the forest, the macaques’ rest, play, socialize with other macaques members and sleep on trees. So in essence, it is like how human go to ‘work’ to earn a living during the day and go back ‘home’ to be with their friends and families. Oil palm plantations are their ‘work’ place and forest is their ‘home’.
So do the macaques’ damage the plantations? Should the plantation owners be wary? No, the researchers found that these monkeys spent most of their time (85%) on the ground foraging on fallen fruits, seeds and flowers. If these are already fallen fruits and seeds, why not let the macaques clean the ground for you?
Can macaques live fully in a human-altered environment?
It is not clear what the activity budget and their behaviour will be like when more and more forest is being converted to oil palm plantations. And until that time arrives, all the researchers can do is to monitor the macaques and diligently collect data that can give us more information on how to balance development and biodiversity in this Anthropocene epoch.
Source: N Ruppert, A Holzner, KW See, A Gisbrecht and A. Beck (2018) Activity budgets and habitat use of wild southern pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) in oil palm plantation and forest. International Journal of Primatology 39(2): 237-251