Flying Foxes Are Facing Extinction After Devastating Population Decline

Posted: Apr 3 2017, 6:18am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 3 2017, 6:23am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Flying Foxes are Facing Extinction after Devastating Population Decline
The Pemba flying fox bat was almost hunted to extinction. Credit: Evan Bowen-Jones

The bats are under threat and conservation is critical

There are more than 60 species of flying foxes or fruit bats that are found through the tropics and subtropics of South Asia, Australia and East Africa as well as distant islands of Indian and Pacific Oceans. Of those, nearly half are threatened with extinction and 28 of them are island species.

These island flying foxes need critical conservation efforts for their survival and recovery.

“Island flying foxes were recognized as a group of conservation concern more than 30 years ago when intense hunting and commercial trading of species on Pacific islands precipitated the extinction of at least one species, the endemic Guam flying fox, and led to dramatic declines in others,” said Tigga Kingston, a professor at Texas Tech University’s Department of Biological Science’s. “Thirty years later, flying fox populations on islands are still declining because of hunting and habitat loss, and new issues, notably conflict between bats and fruit growers over crops, have arisen.”

Flying foxes are intelligent creatures. They use their sharp sense of smell and eyesight to search their food and to help maintain ecological balance through pollination and seed dispersal. Unlike most other bat genus, these bats predominantly feed on nectar, pollen and fruit, which also explain their limited tropical distribution.

A combination of factors including hunting and habitat loss is pushing island flying bats towards extinction. Moreover, their interaction with humans has also increased considerably over the years due to disappearing forests and lack of food. Such interaction led to the decline of at least one species of bat found in Mauritius.

According to government figures, around 45 percent of the overall population of Mauritius fruit bat was eliminated due to conflict between bats and fruit growers.

Female flying foxes usually give birth to a single offspring each year. Since these bats reproduce slowly, their recovery is near impossible unless conservation efforts are improved.

“Conservation on islands is especially challenging – island populations are inherently small, often endemic to the island or of limited distribution…Within this context, however, island flying foxes are particularly vulnerable because they are simultaneously subject to so many interacting threats and reproduce very slowly. So populations are very slow to recover from losses, increasing extinction risk.” Kingston said.

With persistent decline, some researchers believe many of flying foxes species could be functionally extinct by 2050. This could lead to devastating changes on local ecosystems.

“Island flying foxes play keystone roles as seed dispersers and pollinators of both native and economically important plants, and on many islands they are the only effective disperser or pollinator left. The rest, like the dodo on Mauritius, are already lost to extinction,” said Kingston. “The key point is that declines and loses of flying foxes are not just a tragedy in their own right, but will have profound consequences for island ecosystems in the coming decades.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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