18.7 C
Byron Shire
September 21, 2021

Batting for bats: their vital role in forestry

Latest News

Long COVID and the science, so far…

Increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates as quickly as possible is currently a major focus for Australia.

Other News

Thank you Mayor Lyon

Thank you, Mayor Lyon for highlighting the risks in having visiting film crew, real estate speculators and the like...

Viruses

Viruses are organisms at the edge of life and possess genes, evolve by natural selection, and reproduce by creating...

Reece Byrnes re-elected as Tweed Deputy Mayor

With many many local councils are juggling the elections timetable owing to COVID-19 restrictions, and last night the Tweed Shire elected their Deputy Mayor.

Queensland passes voluntary assisted dying laws

Dying with Dignity NSW has welcomed the passage of Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) laws in Queensland and is hoping that NSW Parliament resumes next month so that this issue can be addressed in NSW without further delay.

Found – Have you seen Steve? Missing person

Mullumbimby man Steve Mustchin went missing at 11am this morning from Byron Bay Hospital and his family are asking locals to keep an eye out for him.

How is RT-PCR used to diagnose COVID-19?

It’s fast, reliable and full of lines – but might look different to the PCR you learned about in school.

How’s it hangin’? Grey-headed flying foxes taking it easy like only they can. Photo Mary Gardner.

Mary Gardner

The paperbark trees remember the rain of months ago. Now, in the chill of mid-winter, their creamy flowers are in spectacular abundance. The number of nectar-eating flying foxes at the Byron Bay camp suddenly increase. How do they all know this blossom fest is on?

Grey-headed flying foxes Pteropus poliocephalus are great travellers. In 2012, Billie Roberts and colleagues tracked 14 adult males for about 25 weeks on the Australian east coast. These animals moved 50–100 kilometres a night, sometimes even 300 kilometres a night. All up, they covered an area over 1,000 kilometres long and 128 kilometres wide.

These males visited 77 roosts and, 64 per cent of the time, they stayed there for less than five days in a row. So more often than not, flying foxes live outside of our human routines of home-making and commuting. This is why they seem to defy our frantic efforts to ‘cull’ or ‘relocate’ any single camp.

Chief pollinators

Flying foxes live life large across the landscape. They are the chief pollinators and seed carriers for many species of forest trees. They soar over all those young trees planted out by the Landcare groups and bush regeneration teams. A healthy individual only lives 15–25 years, so their offspring will be the ones who will tend these forests of the future.

Their biology is mysterious. The bare facts of their lifecycles are known. Adults are monogamous and mate all year round. But the males are only fertile during April and May. In October and November, females give birth to live pups. They breastfeed and carry the babies for three weeks. By three months of age the young can forage on their own but they aren’t weaned until about six months of age.

But the immune systems of bats work quite differently from those of humans or other mammals.

Michelle Baker, from CSIRO, thinks that the changes are brought on by the energy demands of flying. Bats use a lot of energy, which leaves them with high levels of toxic oxidants in their tissues. They cope by changing some of their DNA repair systems.

Unexpectedly, this has a beneficial spin-off for them. For humans, understanding this process may lead to a breakthrough for better antiviral medicines. The biochemistry of bats evolved an immune system that is constantly revved up against viruses.

The urban bat

Although bats carry heavy loads of different viruses, they have no symptoms of diseases that can kill the rest of us plodding mammals. Over centuries, as their forest roosts and travels were secure, they coped well enough. Apparently, so did the humans who hunted them for food.

But destroying forests and converting them into paddocks full of domesticated animals forced flying foxes into new living arrangements. They must live more closely with new neighbours. Being clever mammals, they urbanised, roosting in towns and cities. Sensitive to extreme heat, they have shifted their range south by some 450 kilometres.

Camp dispersals

Not only their lives but their deaths are deeply linked to human activity. In 2012, Tidemann and Nelson investigated the life expectancy of 21st-century flying foxes. Over 30 per cent die from heat stress, almost 20 per cent from electrocution with power lines and another 10 per cent from tangling in nets and barbed wire.

On top of this, the NSW government still licenses shooting these endangered animals as well as ‘dispersals of camps’. The language itself should make Australians shudder.

By 2030, the species may be functionally extinct. Some groups of animals may be seen but not enough will be alive to be effective pollinators of the forests – just when all those trees planted by Landcare and bush regenerators finally grow up.

What if we get into action about global warming and take reforestation seriously? Will we need to create sanctuaries and breeding programs for forest pollinators too?

Flying foxes have excellent vision and hearing. Researchers understand at least 20 different vocalisations that the bats use to communicate among themselves. Likely their culture, as that of many mammals, is subtle and relies on elders to teach youngsters. Perhaps these elders would teach us too.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Good story!
    Flying foxes are engines of biodiversity and by out-cross pollinating our forests are bulwarks against climate change. We can either spend a fortune trying to save them in 20 years time or help them for very little today. There should be no more camp dispersals or disruptions. The bats keep over 100 species of native trees healthy and strong and we need every single one of them – unlike our species the bats perform critical ecological roles.

    As far as viruses go, there is only one that can be caught directly from an Australian flying fox – it is the rare Lyssavirus and is transmissible only by bite or scratch from an infected bat (they also die of this virus). No person who has been bitten by and infected bat and who has then had the post exposure vaccine has died. With bats the No touch = No risk rule applies. Always call a wildlife rescue group to aid injured or unwell bats.

  2. Bats clearly have a most important roll to play keeping our forests healthy. However, when people are kept awake at night by the noise of them interacting etc. in the paperbarks which Tweed Shire Council so frequently plant in our streets, then there is a problem. Also, the mess left in the streets on the mornings after is filthy and possibly unhealthy. I wish We knew how to keep bats & people happy and healthy.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

ScoMo does it again

ScoMo recently travelled from the ACT to Sydney, not something to be recommended at the moment. What is an essential worker? Surely someone paying 50...

Teacher survey

The Echo’s survey of local teachers regarding vaccination was as illuminating as it was disappointing. One respondent popped their head out the rabbit hole...

10pm Monday – update of COVID venues of concern

The Northern NSW Local Health District has been notified of a number of venues of concern associated with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region.

A new COVID-19 case flies into the Far North Coast

The Northern NSW Local Health District has confirmed that there is a new case of COVID-19 in Northern NSW today, and they will be included in NSW Health’s official reporting tomorrow.