Fire, demography and the persistence of siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus: Hylobatidae) in a Sumatran rainforest


All correspondence to: Timothy G. O'Brien. Tel: 62 251 325 664; Fax: 62 251 316 780. E-mail:


We show a direct impact of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) related fires on the demography and persistence of the siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus), a frugivorous, Southeast Asian rainforest primate. Siamang groups affected by ENSO-related wildfires in a Sumatran rainforest were significantly smaller and experienced significantly lower infant and juvenile survival. Likelihood of infants surviving to subadults was higher by a factor of 2.8 for groups in undisturbed habitat. Burn groups had access to 48% fewer reproductive-size strangling fig trees in their territories, compared to non-burn groups. Dietary and foraging behaviour changes associated with habitat disturbance may result in lower productivity and higher mortality of young animals. Reproductive potential of burn groups is insufficient to offset low survival and groups are unlikely to persist for more than two generations. Increasing frequency of ENSO events increases the likelihood that siamang and other long-lived species that rely on fruiting trees will experience multiple fires within one generation; the resulting reduction in seed dispersal services will slow recovery of burned forest.