Conserving endemic tropical lowland forest bats in the western Solomon Islands

A project undertaken at the School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland and supervised by Diana Fisher and Tyrone Lavery

Background

Bats are important pollinators and dispersers of seeds in tropical forests. The Solomon Islands has an exceptionally high diversity of bats, with many endemic genera and species. The archipelago is presently experiencing rapid loss of primary forest as a result of commercial logging. Many species appear to be reliant on primary forest and are likely to be declining.

Intensive surveys of the western Solomon Islands by Fisher and Tasker in the early 1990s provide baseline data on bat assemblages present in unlogged forests. Most of western province including all sites surveyed by Fisher & Tasker have since been commercially logged. Monkey-faced bats (Pteralopex spp.) are five species in an evolutionarily unique genus of endangered and critically endangered bats restricted to the Solomon Islands.

The Project

This project aims to quantitatively assess changes in bat assemblages that have occurred since the 1990s in forests that have been commercially logged ~1998-2003. We are focusing on Pteralopex taki (the New-Georgia Monkey-faced Bat) an endangered species confined to western province. Research through the Australian Museum in the 1990s (Fisher & Tasker 1997) indicated that it would be extirpated by logging: radio-tracking and surveys showed that it relies on very large trees and was restricted to lowland primary forest.

The project will have four main aims:

  1. Assess the changes in bat assemblages on Vangunu and New Georgia, in forests surveyed in 1992 that have since been logged;
  2. Assess the status of a population of Pteralopex taki in the vicinity of Zaira,on the weathercoast of Vangunu Island, the last known location of this species (a single individual found by Tyrone Lavery in 2011);
  3. Search other remaining areas of primary forest in western province for Pteralopex taki. These include: areas of Gatokae, Tetepare, New Georgia and Vella Lavella islands.
  4. Use camera trapping at these sites to record Pteralopex and other bat visits to flowering trees, particularly those that are locally economically important.

This work will support recognition of the Zaira community protected area and provide information locally on the value of retaining forest remnants. This is the last substantial unlogged area of Vangunu.

References

Fisher, D., & Tasker, E. (1997). Natural history of the New Georgia monkey-faced bat Pteralopex sp. Nov. From the Solomon Islands. Pacific Conservation Biology, 3, 134–142.


Figure 1. Pteralopex taki captured in 2011 near Zaira. Photo Tyrone Lavery.

Figure 2. The caldera near Zaira, Vangunu, a difficult-to-access unlogged forest remnant (and traditional protected area managed by the Zaira community). Photo Tyrone Lavery.

Figure 3. The edge of the Zaira caldera. Photo Tyrone Lavery.

Figure 4. Coastal view of the community of Zaira, Vangunu. Photo Tyrone Lavery.

Figure 5. Radiotracking Pteralopex taki on New Gerogia, 1992. Photo Diana Fisher.

Figure 6. Measuring a tree at a site with Pteralopex taki on New Georgia, 1992. Photo Diana Fisher.