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Modelling species distribution at multiple spatial scales: gibbon habitat preferences in a fragmented landscape


Thomas N. E. Gray, World Wide Fund for Nature Greater Mekong, Cambodia Country Program, House #54, Street 352, Boeung Keng Kang I, PO Box 2467, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


Conservation of Indochinese primates is hampered by a lack of knowledge of species ecology, habitat preferences and, locally, distribution. Predictive distribution and habitat suitability models, using predictors known to affect the distribution of similar species elsewhere, may, therefore be of great benefit to conservationists within the region. Yellow-cheeked crested gibbon Nomascus gabriellae is an IUCN-listed endangered primate distributed east of the Mekong River in Cambodia, southern Vietnam, and possibly southern Lao PDR. Within Cambodia, yellow-cheeked crested gibbon are naturally restricted to evergreen forest fragments within a landscape matrix of deciduous dipterocarp and semi-evergreen forests. During the 2008 dry season, auditory surveys for yellow-cheeked crested gibbon were conducted within Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, Mondulkiri province, Cambodia. Predictive distribution models, in which variables were included at the scale at which they best explained gibbon occurrence (multi-grain models), were constructed to examine the species' habitat associations and tolerance of habitat fragmentation within the wildlife sanctuary. Gibbon occupancy (ϕ) was higher in evergreen (0.43±0.26–0.62) than in semi-evergreen forest (0.21±0.09–0.4), with gibbon presence constrained by a critical amount of evergreen forest within 5 km radius of listening posts. Three patches of optimal habitat within Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary were identified. These, and connecting habitats, should be the target of increased enforcement effort to limit hunting and habitat conversion. Similar multi-grain models are likely to be valuable for conservationists within mosaic habitats as they can facilitate identification of the minimum suitable fragment size for species of conservation concern.