Flying-fox movement ecology
How and why animals move across the planet has fascinated humankind since time immemorial. However, until recently, progress in movement research has been slow due to technological limitations and a lack of consistent methodology. Current research focuses on understanding the underlying causes of movement patterns and their ecological and evolutionary consequence; however, a key challenge is to integrate our understanding of movement across different spatiotemporal scales in single systems. Multi-scale investigations are crucial for a fundamental understanding of the causes and consequences of animal movement, and are key for managing our biodiversity under anthropogenic environmental change.
Flying-foxes are charismatic bats found across the Old World and Australia. They are the most mobile mammals on earth by most measures, and ideal models for studying movement across a wide range of spatiotemporal scales. Flying-fox movements range from small relocations within colonies and foraging sites, to nightly foraging trips of up to 80 km, to long-distance nomadism covering thousands of kilometres across up to 16 degrees of latitude in a single year.
Their extreme mobility makes flying-foxes key long-distance pollen and seed dispersers in Australia’s fragmented forest ecosystems, and enables their successful exploitation of the unpredictable resource environment of this country. However, their mobility also facilitates transmission of disease and often brings them in conflict with humans, and so they require a precarious balancing of conservation and management concern.
Understanding how and why flying-foxes move across different spatiotemporal scales is crucial for the management of the species, the habitats in which it lives, and the trajectory of new emerging diseases. Recent advances in tracking technology and remote-sensing, combined with detailed long-term monitoring of flying-foxes colonies across their distribution, makes it possible - for the first time - to investigate movement from local to continental scales in a single animal system.
Nomadic movements of two adult female grey-headed flying-foxes, tracked over a period of five years (Welbergen et al. 2020).
Aims & Objectives
THIS RESEARCH IS TO DEVELOP A MECHANISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE MOVEMENT ECOLOGY OF FLYING-FOXES, FROM LOCAL TO CONTINENTAL SCALES.
To make this ambitious aim tractable, our research program will focus on the following two areas of research:
With this project we address key issues in the field of movement research, and provide much-needed scientific underpinnings for policy and management of Australia's flying-foxes and other mobile species.
Our approach is guided by the emerging paradigm of ‘movement ecology’ that focuses on identifying behaviour from tracking data and revealing the mechanisms that drive patterns of movement.
Our methodology involves innovative experimental manipulation, designed to determine how flying-foxes navigate, and data from cutting edge GPS/biotelemetry technology, satellite telemetry, and Doppler radar. Combined with the latest analytical techniques, these will enable us to determine the intrinsic (i.e. physiological) and environmental factors that govern flying-fox movements. We are in the unique position that we already have at our disposal the biotelemetry technology, and the extensive GPS, satellite and Doppler radar data required to successfully complete this project.
Fabulously insightful overview of our lab's work by The Guardian's First Dog on the Moon!
Our Research Program brings together a multi-institutional team comprising the following people:
- Dr Justin Welbergen - Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University)
- Dr Christopher Turbill - Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University)
- Dr Jessica Meade - Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University)
- Dr David Westcott - CSIRO
- Adam McKeown - CSIRO
- Dr John Martin - Taronga Conservation Society Australia
Current Student Projects
- Melissa Walker - PhD Candidate (Western Sydney University; supervisors: Dr Christopher Turbill, Dr Jessica Meade, Dr Justin Welbergen). Topic: Flying-fox phyisology and energetics
- Eliane McCarthy - MRes student (University of Western Sydney; supervisors: Dr Justin Welbergen, Dr John Martin, A/Prof Matthias Boer. Topic: Remote sensing of Australian flying-fox camps.
- Samantha Yabsley - MRes student (University of Western Sydney; supervisors: Dr Justin Welbergen, Dr Jessica Meade. Topic: Drivers of flying-fox urbanisation
- WELBERGEN, J. A., MEADE, J., FIELD, H., EDSON, D., McMICHAEL, L., SHOO, L. P., PRASZCZALEK, J., SMITH, C., MARTIN, J. (2020) Extreme mobility of the world's largest flying mammals creates key challenges for management and conservation BMC Biology, 18:101
- MEADE, J., VAN DER REE, R., STEPANIAN, P. M., WESTCOTT, D. A. & WELBERGEN, J. A., 2019. Using weather radar to monitor the number, timing and directions of flying-foxes emerging from their roosts. Scientific Reports, 9(1), p.10222.
- WESTCOTT, D. A., MCKEOWN, A., PARRY, H., PARSONS, J., JURDAK, R., KUSY, B., SOMMER, P., ZHAO, K., DOBBIE, M., HEERSINK, D., CALEY, D. 2015. Implementation of the national flying-fox monitoring program (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra, 2015).
- JURDAK, R., SOMMER, P., KUSY, B., KOTTEGE, N., CROSSMAN, C., MCKEOWN, A. AND WESTCOTT, D., 2013, April. Camazotz: multimodal activity-based GPS sampling. In Proceedings of the 12th international conference on Information processing in sensor networks (pp. 67-78). ACM.
- WELBERGEN, J. A., KLOSE, S. M., MARKUS, N. & EBY, P. (2008) Climate change and the effects of temperature extremes on Australian flying-foxes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 275, 419-425
- BIRO, D., FREEMAN, R., MEADE, J., ROBERTS, S., & GUILFORD, T. (2007). Pigeons combine compass and landmark guidance in familiar route navigation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(18), 7471-7476
- WELBERGEN, J. A. (2006) Timing of the evening emergence from day roosts of the grey-headed flying-fox, Pteropus poliocephalus: the effects of predation risk, foraging needs, and social context. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 60: 311-322
- MEADE, J., BIRO, D., & GUILFORD, T. (2005). Homing pigeons develop local route stereotypy. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 272(1558), 17-23