, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 49-64

History and Present Scope of Field Studies on Macaca fuscata yakui at Yakushima Island, Japan

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Abstract

Field studies on Japanese macaques on Yakushima Island started in the mid-1970s, >25 yr after the emergence of Japanese primatology, in response to criticism of methods using provisioning and the desire to find the socioecological factors influencing the social life of macaques in natural habitats. We habituated macaques without provisioning mainly in the coastal warm-temperate forest and found that they lived in small troops with a high socionomic sex ratio. Observations of several troop fissions and troop takeovers by nontroop males suggest that Yakushima macaques have a different social organization from that of Japanese macaques in other habitats. For example, youngest ascendancy as the dominance relationhip among sisters, which usually occurs in provisioned troops, was absent in Yakushima macaques. We compared their ecological and social features with those of Japanese macaques at Kinkazan (cool-temperate forests) and found that abundance of high-quality foods may cause stronger intra- and intertroop competition at Yakushima. Female Yakushima macaques may more positively solicit nontroop males to associate with them during the mating season. Such a tendency may promote frequent male movement between troops and frequent troop fissions. Though ecological factors form social features of Japanese macaques, some features such as male association and movements between troops are not accounted for via socioecology. Recent field studies have focused on macaques living at higher altitudes in Yakushima and on individual survival strategies by taking diverse viewpoints and using new technologies. DNA analysis of fecal samples shows low genetic diversity and suggests the macaques’ recent expansion from lowland to highland forests in Yakushima. The population censuses conducted annually indicate that the higher-altitude macaques have a larger home range but a similar group size versus their counterparts at low elevations. The unsolved issues in socioecology will pose a challenge to the younger generation of primatologists. Conservation of macaques and their habitat is one of our major activities at Yakushima. The level of protection has gradually increased in the National Park at Yakushima and, via our various conservation efforts, its most important area was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. However, large-scale logging in the 1960s and 1970s caused the loss of macaque habitats and led to increased crop damage by them in the 1980s. We have proposed effective methods to protect cultivated fields from macaques as well as several plans for sustainable use of forests, such as ecotourism and a fieldwork course for university students. Local residents and researchers have created several nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to promote conservation and nature study at Yakushima. The role of local NGOs is particularly important to mitigate conflicts between people and wildlife. Though hundreds of macaques are still captured as pests annually in Yakushima, we continue the conservation measures and spread awareness of conservation in cooperation with the local NGOs.