Role and conservation of flying fox biodiversity for Fiji's rainforest health

A project co-ordinated through the University of South Australia and co-ordinated by Dr S Petit.

(The project is based in lowland tropical rainforest on Vanua Levu (Fiji Islands) and is a collaboration between The University of South Australia, University of South Pacific, University of Hawaii, National Trust of Fiji, and NatureFiji-MareqetiViti. The PhD student undertaking the field work is Annette Scanlon, University of South Australia).

Bat populations have been declining in the Pacific region because of habitat loss, hunting, cyclones, and lack of knowledge concerning their value and conservation management.  Bats are the only native mammals of Fiji.  Four of the six species are flying foxes and the focus of this study.  IUCN listings are critically endangered for the Fiji flying fox (Mirimiri acrodonta; Fiji only), vulnerable for the long-tailed flying fox or blossom bat (Notopteris macdonaldi; Fiji and Vaunatu), near threatened for the Samoan flying fox (Petropus samoensis nawaiensis), and least concern for the Pacific flying fox (Pteropus tonganus tonganus).  Elsewhere, bats have vast impacts on forest regeneration and health via pollination and seed dispersal, with a positive feedback on the rest of the wildlife.  In Fiji, where deforestation is linked with increased poverty, it is important to understand aspects of forest ecology.  Currently, no information is available on diet, seed dispersal, pollination, habitat use, home range, or inter-island movements for Fiji's bats.

This study will highlight some of the roles of bats in maintaining rainforest health in Fiji and contribute to education and capacity of the local people, and to bat conservation.  We are examining the value of biodiversity in a pollination guild, aspects of botany relevant to bats and people, and effective conservation.  The project started in 2008, and the work is showing that bats are very important pollinators and seed dispersers of Fiji’s native flora.  So far we have monitored reproductive phenology of over 2,500 rainforest trees for over a year, including tracking resource availability before and after cyclone Tómas.  We have completed a bat education session with local school children, and continue to assemble a pollen reference collection and monitor the effect of an invasive vine on rainforest productivity.  Over 250 bats have been trapped from 5 species since September 2008, including one specimen of the very rare species Mirimiri acrodonta.

Over the next three years we will continue to monitor bat-plant relationships in Fiji, as well as assess cave habitats, community perceptions, and pollination role of different bat species for key plants.

 

Figure 1. Juvenile Pteropus samoensis subspecies nawaiensis

Figure 2. The critically endangered Fiji flying fox, Mirimiri acrodonta

Figure 3. Fiji long-tailed bat or Fiji blossom bat, Notopteris macdonaldi

Figure 4. Waisali village and rainforest area

Figure 5. Local children drawing bats at school