Hot Topics in Ecology

Managing tensions around urban flying-fox roosts

Careful context-specific consideration is needed in decision making for urban flying-fox roosts
Synthesis by Dr Pia Lentini, University of Melbourne, and Dr Justin Welbergen, University of Western Sydney
  • Managing Australia’s increasingly urban flying-fox roosts is contentious because it requires the balancing of conservation, animal welfare, human health and amenity concerns.
  • Attempts to move roosts have proven to be extremely costly and largely ineffective.
  • Alternative strategies such as local management of roost vegetation; buffering communities against the impacts of droppings, noise and smell; and public education programs, may provide longer-term socially and environmentally-acceptable solutions.
Image: Grey-headed flying-fox roost in Boonah, Qld, prior to its destruction in June 2014. Justin Welbergen.

Flying-foxes are large bats that feed on nectar, pollen and fruit at night, and roost by day in colonies in the thousands. They are amongst the most mobile mammals on Earth and can track changes in floral resources across much of Australia’s north and east, where they are pivotal for pollination and seed dispersal in forests. Populations have experienced declines since European colonisation due to habitat destruction and persecution, and the Grey-headed and the Spectacled flying-fox are listed as threatened nationally.

Flying-fox roosts are now increasingly urban, potentially because of the feeding opportunities these areas provide and loss of habitat elsewhere. This causes community concern because roosting flying-foxes are noisy, smelly, can damage vegetation and property, and are often perceived as carriers of diseases. Concern is exacerbated when local mass flowering leads to the sudden (and often short-term) arrival of thousands of flying-foxes. This is usually interpreted to mean that there has been an overall population increase, causing some to question the species’ protected status and to call for ‘dispersal’ involving the use of disturbances to encourage the bats to move elsewhere. Urban dispersals require sustained effort over long periods, can cost millions of dollars, and typically either fail to move the bats along or force them into even more contentious areas.

There is an urgent need to experimentally test the efficacy of alternative mitigation measures, and to cater local management to the social context of each roost. Approaches currently being trialled include the installation of double-glazing and shade cloth to buffer noise and smell, vegetation pruning and revegetation to increase the distance between roosts and people’s amenity, and education programs to change perceptions. These have the potential to deliver longer-term socially acceptable outcomes.

Hot Topic Lead Author: 
Name: Dr Pia Lentini
Email: pia.lentini@unimelb.edu.au
Phone: (03) 9035 9500

ID Title Location Type
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8764 Garnett, S., Whybird, O., Spencer, H. (1999) The conservation status of the spectacled flying fox Pteropus conspicillatus in Australia. Aust. Zool. 31, 38–54. Correlational
8765 Kung, N. Y., Field, H. E., McLaughlin, A., Edson, D., Taylor, M. (2015) Flying-foxes in the Australian urban environment—community attitudes and opinions. One Heal. 1, 24-30. Queensland Correlational
8766 Markus, N., Hall, L. (2004) Foraging behaviour of the black flying-fox (Pteropus alecto) in the urban landscape of Brisbane, Queensland. Wildl. Res. 31, 345–355. Brisbane, Queensland Correlational
8767 McClelland, K. (2009) Challenges and recovery actions for the widespread, threatened Grey-headed Flying-fox: A review from a New South Wales policy perspective. Ecol. Manag. Restor. 10, 110-116. New South Wales Review paper
8768 McConkey, K. R., Drake, D. R. (2006) Flying foxes cease to function as seed dispersers long before they become rare. Ecology. 87, 271–276. Tonga, Pacific Ocean Correlational
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8773 Parsons, J. G., Cairns, A., Johnson, C. N., Robson, S. K. A., Shilton, L. A., Westcott, D. A. (2006) Dietary variation in spectacled flying foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus) of the Australian Wet Tropics. Aust. J. Zool. 54, 417. Queensland Correlational
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8776 Roberts, B. J., Catterall, C. P., Eby, P., Kanowski, J. (2012) Latitudinal range shifts in Australian flying-foxes: A re-evaluation. Austral Ecol. 37, 12–22. Eastern Australia Correlational
8777 Roberts, B. J., Eby, P., Catterall, C. P., Kanowski, J., Bennett, G. (2011) The outcomes and costs of relocating flying-fox camps: Insights from the case of Maclean, Australia. Aust. Zool. 35, 277–287. Lower Clarence Region, north-eastern NSW. Review paper
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8782 Tidemann, C. R., Nelson, J. E. (2011) Life expectancy, causes of death and movements of the grey-headed flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) inferred from banding. Acta Chiropterologica. 13, 419–429. Eastern and northern Australia Correlational
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8784 Welbergen, J. A. (2011) Fit females and fat polygynous males: seasonal body mass changes in the grey-headed flying fox. Oecologia. 165, 629–37. Dallis Park, NSW Correlational
8785 Welbergen, J. A., Klose, S. M., Markus, N., Eby, P. (2008) Climate change and the effects of temperature extremes on Australian flying-foxes. Proc. Biol. Sci. 275, 419–25. Eastern New South Wales Correlational
8786 Williams, N. D. G., Mcdonnell, M. J., Phelan, G. K., Keim, L. D., Van der Ree, R. (2006) Range expansion due to urbanization: Increased food resources attract Grey-headed Flying-foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) to Melbourne. Austral Ecol. 31, 190–198. Melbourne, Victoria. Correlational

Further information about this topic contact:

Dr Pia Lentini
pia.lentini@unimelb.edu.au
(03) 9035 9500

Chair, Hot Topics Editorial Board
Dr Brett Murphy
brett.p.murphy@cdu.edu.au