Words & Photos By Andrew Young
Flying foxes are vital for biodiversity, pollination and a healthy ecosystem. And some researchers believe they could be functionally extinct by 2050.
Just as permaculture is an interconnected system, so is Australia’s native ecosystem. Fruit bats, or flying foxes, play an important role in keeping the ecosystem in balance as many plants rely on them for their survival.
They are a keystone species primarily responsible for the pollination and seed dispersal of larger trees, including eucalypts. Flying foxes can travel great distances meaning they’re capable of pollinating forests that have been fragmented by land clearing.
Big And Small
The largest of the megabats, flying foxes are herbivores that feed on blossoms, nectar, pollen and fruit. And, unlike microbat species which eat insects, rely on their vision instead of sonar to find food at night.
Flying foxes are predominately found along the east coast of Australia and South East Asia. In mainland Australia, there are four species; the Spectacled flying fox (Pteropus conspicillatus), the Little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus), the Grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalis) and the Black flying fox (Pteropus alecto).
Bats can carry the Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV), but less than one percent of bats in Australia can carry it and humans can only be affected if bitten or scratched. For this reason, it’s important never to handle a sick or injured bat.
Numbers In Decline
In Australia, flying foxes are listed as a vulnerable species due to their rapid population decline brought on primarily by habitat loss. Other causes such as feral cats and dogs and barbed-wire fences have had negative impacts on population numbers, and the use of inappropriate bird netting to cover fruit trees is having devastating effects.
Bat conservationists advise netting with holes large enough to poke your finger through poses a great danger to not just flying foxes, but many other animals.
According to Animals Australia, both the Grey-headed flying fox and Spectacled flying fox have declined by at least 95 percent in the past century, with a high percentage attributed to just the last 30 years. Astonishingly, despite being classified as vulnerable, both the Queensland and New South Wales governments still issue permits allowing orchardists to cull flying foxes.
How To Help
When we design our gardens, we often consider how our choices affect native wildlife such as birds, lizards and insects, so why not consider bats, too?
As well as using appropriate netting and keeping cats and dogs locked up, we can provide an important food source to these misunderstood and vulnerable animals. As their main food source is nectar, pollen and fruit, you can encourage them into your garden by planting native varieties such as grevilleas, native figs, lilly pillies, banksias and eucalypts.
Boost your garden’s ecological balance by building a microbat shelter (see breakout). Unlike fruit bats, microbats primarily eat insects, making them a valuable companion in any home garden.