Estimating orangutan densities using the standing crop and marked nest count methods: Lessons learned for conservation

Stephanie N. Spehar*, Paul D. Mathewson, Nuzuar, Serge A. Wich, Andrew J. Marshall, Hjalmar Kühl, Nardiyono, Erik Meijaard

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    Reliable estimates of great ape abundance are needed to assess distribution, monitor population status, evaluate conservation tactics, and identify priority populations for conservation. Rather than using direct counts, surveyors often count ape nests. The standing crop nest count (SCNC) method converts the standing stock of nests into animal densities using a set of parameters, including nest decay rate. Nest decay rates vary greatly over space and time, and it takes months to calculate a site-specific value. The marked nest count (MNC) method circumvents this issue and only counts new nests produced during a defined period. We compared orangutan densities calculated by the two methods using data from studies in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia. We show how animal densities calculated using nest counts should be cautiously interpreted when used to make decisions about management or budget allocation. Even with site-specific decay rates, short studies using the SCNC method may not accurately reflect the current population unless conducted at a scale sufficient to include wide-ranging orangutan movement. Density estimates from short studies using the MNC method were affected by small sample sizes and by orangutan movement. To produce reliable results, the MNC method may require a similar amount of effort as the SCNC method. We suggest a reduced reliance on the traditional line transect surveys in favor of feasible alternative methods when absolute abundance numbers are not necessary or when site-specific nest decay rates are not known. Given funding constraints, aerial surveys, reconnaissance walks, and interview techniques may be more cost-effective means of accomplishing some survey goals. Abstract in Indonesian is available at

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)748-757
    Number of pages10
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010

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