Flying-fox roosts are becoming increasingly urban, which may be because these areas provide good feeding opportunities and/or because they are losing habitat elsewhere. However, we don’t know enough about how flying foxes are using the urban environment and the types of plants they like to feed on across the entire year. More information about these aspects of their biology will help us understand why they move in and out of cities.
Flying foxes in urban areas causes community concern because roosting flying-foxes are noisy, smelly, can damage vegetation and property, and are often perceived as carriers of diseases. However, flying-fox populations have also experienced declines since European colonisation due to habitat destruction and persecution, and the Grey-headed and Spectacled flying-fox are listed nationally as threatened species. This means we need to carefully balance the conservation of these ecologically important species with the needs and concerns of the community.
The CAUL Urban Wildlife app lets you help to monitor native wildlife in Australian cities. You can record sightings of flying foxes, view all of your previous records, and see a map of where other citizen scientists have recorded flying foxes in your area.
How you can help
Flying-foxes are large bats that feed at night on nectar, pollen and fruit, and roost by day in colonies in the thousands. They are amongst the most mobile mammals on earth and can track changes in their preferred foods across much of Australia's north and east - where they are very important for pollination and seed dispersal in forests.
Four species that occur on Australia's mainland are the focus of this app: the Grey-headed, Black, Little red and Spectacled flying-fox. Where their distributions overlap, it is not uncommon for the species to roost together to form mixed camps. Flying foxes use a very broad range of vegetation types: rainforests, forests, woodlands, swamps, mangroves, thickets, orchards and farmland, and even botanical gardens, and are often found close to water.
Why are we collecting this data?
We are trying to understand how we can better manage flying-foxes and their habitat so populations can persist and co-exist with humans. A large part of this relates to how flying-foxes move in and out of urban areas in response to changes in the availability of food across the entire landscape.
In order to better predict these movements, we first need know what they're feeding on, where and when.
While past studies have given us a good idea of the plant species that flying-foxes most like to feed on, they have been hampered by the large areas that these species cover and the changing nature of flowering and fruiting patterns through time and space.
This where you as citizen scientists step in: we hope that by having as many eyes as possible in the trees (and shrubs) we can start to build a clear picture of where flying-foxes are throughout the year, and what they're eating.
Data collected using the app will be uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
More information on the Shared Urban Habitat research project can be found here.
Banner image: Black flying fox via flickr gailhampshire (CC BY 2.0)