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Keywords:

  • locomotion;
  • feeding postures;
  • hominoid evolution

Abstract

Observational data were collected on the positional behavior of habituated adult female orangutans in the rain forest of the Kutai National Park, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Results revealed the following about locomotion during travel: movement was concentrated in the understory and lower main canopy; and brachiation (without grasping by the feet) accounted for 11% of travel distance, quadrupedalism for 12%, vertical climbing for 18%, tree-swaying for 7%, and clambering for 51%. In climbing and clambering, the animal was orthograde and employed forelimb suspension with a mixture of hindlimb suspension and support. Thus suspension by the forelimbs occurred in at least 80% of travel. Locomotion in feeding trees resembled that during travel but with more climbing and less brachiation. Feeding was distributed more evenly among canopy levels than was travel, and use of postures (by time) included sitting 50%, suspension with the body vertical 11%, and suspension by hand and foot with the body horizontal 36%. The traditional explanation of the evolution of the distinctive hominoid postcranium stresses brachiation. More recently it has been proposed that climbing, broadly defined and partly equivalent to clambering in this study, is the most significant behavior selecting for morphology. The biomechanical similarity of brachiation and the orthograde clambering of orangutans precludes the present results from resolving the issue for the evolution of Pongo. The orangutan is by far the largest mammal that travels in forest canopy, and a consideration of the ways that its positional behavior solves problems posed by habitat structure, particularly the tapering of branches and gaps between trees, indicates that suspensory capacities have been essential in permitting the evolution and maintenance of its great body size.