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Open Access Research

Variation in developmental arrest among male orangutans: a comparison between a Sumatran and a Bornean population

Lynda P Dunkel1*, Natasha Arora1, Maria A van Noordwijk1, Sri Suci Utami Atmoko2, Angga Prathama Putra3, Michael Krützen1 and Carel P van Schaik1

Author Affiliations

1 Anthropological Institute & Museum, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, Zürich, CH-8057, Switzerland

2 Faculty of Biology, Universitas Nasional, Jalan Sawo Manila, Pejaten Pasar Minggu, Jakarta, 12520, Indonesia

3 Faculty of Mathematics and Science, Universitas Indonesia, Depok, 16424, Indonesia

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Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:12  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-10-12

Published: 19 March 2013

Abstract

Introduction

The presence of two sexually active male morphs with different reproductive tactics in a single species is rare among mammals. The most striking case of bimaturism among primates is exhibited by the orangutan (Pongo spp), in which one adult morph, the unflanged male, irreversibly develops into another one, the flanged form, but may remain arrested in the unflanged state for many years. However, it has been suggested that such arrest is less common among Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) compared to Sumatrans (Pongo abelii). To investigate this possible inter-specific difference we compared both the number of developing males and the ratios of the two male morphs at two long-term study sites, Suaq Balimbing on Sumatra and Tuanan on Borneo.

Results

First, we observed a significantly greater number of flanged than unflanged males per month in the Tuanan study area, whereas the opposite pattern held at Suaq. Second, the same contrast held for the total number of identified individuals over the study, with more flanged than unflanged males at Tuanan and the opposite at Suaq. These differences were mainly due to transient males. For Tuanan, the identification results were confirmed by detailed genetic analyses. Finally, we recorded a higher proportion of unflanged males that became flanged during any given year at Tuanan than at Suaq.

Conclusion

These results show that developmental arrest is far more common at Suaq than at Tuanan. Preliminary comparisons suggest that this is a general contrast between the island taxa of orangutans and should help efforts to identify the function and proximate control of developmental arrest in orangutan males.

Keywords:
Arrested development; Bimaturism; Bornean orangutan; Sumatran orangutan; Reproductive tactics