Journal Article

Environment and time as constraints on the biogeographical distribution of gibbons


We develop a time budget model for the hylobatid family with the aim of assessing the extent to which their contemporary and historical biogeographic distributions might be explained by ecological constraints. The model uses local climate to predict time budgets, and from this the limiting size of social group that animals could manage at a given location. The model predicts maximum group sizes that vary between 3-15 within the taxon’s current distribution, indicating that the combination of their dietary and locomotor styles with the kinds of habitats they inhabit radically constrain group size. Beyond the edges of their current distribution, sustainable group size rapidly tends to zero, although if they had been able to bypass some of these areas, they would have found very suitable habitats in southern India and across the Wallace Line. While travel time would be a major constraint on group size at larger group sizes, as it is in great apes, the main factor limiting the gibbon’s current distribution is the time they need to spend resting that is imposed on them by the environment. The model also indicates that gibbons would not now be able to survive in regions of central and southern China where they are known to have occurred within historical times, perhaps suggesting that historical climate change following the Little Ice Age of the C18th made these regions uninhabitable for them. Finally our results indicate that gibbons have the ecological capacity to live in larger groups than they do, making it unlikely that their adoption of monogamy reflects purely ecological constraints.

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Dunbar, Robin I.M.
Cheyne, Susan M.
Lan, Daoying
Korstjens, Amanda
Lehmann, Julia
Cowlishaw, Guy

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\Department of Social Sciences


Year of publication: 2019
Date of RADAR deposit: 2018-12-03

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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