Combining behavioural and LiDAR data to reveal relationships between canopy structure and orangutan nest site selection in disturbed forests

Andrew B. Davies, Felicity Oram, Marc Ancrenaz, Gregory P. Asner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Primary tropical forests are becoming increasingly disturbed and fragmented, making it critically important to understand the conservation value of degraded forests. Many populations of even the largest and most iconic species are now found outside of primary habitats, and the long-term survival of these and many other species depends on appropriate management of degraded areas, whether protected or not. However, for conservation in degraded habitats to be successful, an adequate understanding of the minimal ecological requirements necessary for species persistence within them is required. We combined ground and helicopter nest surveys of critically endangered Bornean orangutans with high-resolution measurements of forest canopy structure from airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) to understand orangutan nest site selection across multiple spatial scales in degraded forests of the Lower Kinabatangan region, Malaysian Borneo. We found orangutans to be selective when choosing nest sites, with nests more likely to be observed in canopies of tall and uniform height and closer to full canopy gaps, which was consistent across spatial scales and orangutan age and sex classes. These sites likely offer orangutans an improved vantage point and/or shelter from wind and rain. In contrast, no discernible relationships between nest site selection and canopy complexity, or nest abundance and landscape forest structure or aboveground carbon density were recorded. Our findings suggest that although orangutans do nest across a range of forest conditions, their optimum requirement for nesting strongly depends on forest patches with sufficient tall canopy of uniform height. These results serve to inform degraded forest conservation strategies across Borneo, particularly where orangutans are a focal species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-107
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Bornean orangutan
  • Borneo
  • Carnegie Airborne Observatory
  • Kinabatangan
  • LiDAR
  • Malaysia
  • Pongo pygmaeus
  • Sabah

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


Dive into the research topics of 'Combining behavioural and LiDAR data to reveal relationships between canopy structure and orangutan nest site selection in disturbed forests'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this