Project update 19, photo update 11, video update 6: Project Pteropus phase 1 in review

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It’s definitely been a crazy, roller coaster ride for Project Pteropus so far! Time flies when you’re having fun, and before we knew it, we’re already in the third and final year of Sheema‘s PhD. We’re due to start a tiny bit more of fieldwork over the next 3 months, then everything needs to be wrapped up pronto as she’ll be on her way to spend 6 months in Paris this June 🙂

So what has the project achieved so far? Some pretty exciting stuff, as it turns out. Almost all the data are in already, but some still need a bit of time to be analysed. We’ve decided to summarise our results so far into an interim report, which is why you’re getting this bumper post that serves as a compilation of updates, photos AND videos all at the same time! 😀

Also, HUGE thanks to Bat Conservation International for awarding us a small grant in September last year. Without this funding we definitely wouldn’t have been able to achieve as much as we have, and we’re deeply grateful. Click on the BCI logo below to find out more about applying for their small grants:

BCI logo

Meanwhile, here’s what we’ve found out up to this point (if you’re just interested in the images and don’t need to read through the information, just scroll down further!):

  • Through our wonderful new collaboration with Dr Gan Han Ming and his team at Monash University Malaysia, we’ve been using Next Generation Sequencing techniques to conduct molecular analyses of flying fox faeces…and we’re starting to get a pretty good idea of what these bats are feeding on! This is a fantastic breakthrough, because these bats travel such long distances to feed, and there aren’t always traces of seeds or pollen in their faeces – and even if there are, they’ve been rather hard to identify through conventional, morphological techniques using a microscope. We’re the first people to trial a molecular approach for studying flying fox diet, and…we’re thrilled to find out that we’ve succeeded! And we’ve got a looong list of plant species; 7 cultivated trees (including 1 fig species!) and 50 wild ones (including 6 fig species!) from the forest – many of which we had no idea the bats were even feeding on. So even though figs are still an important part of their diet, there are many many more wild plant species that they actually eat…

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  • On a more sober note, our questionnaire survey in Kampung Juara has shown us that there are definitely tricky issues when it comes to humans and flying foxes coexisting together. Awareness of ecosystem services provided by fruit bats, and the benefits to people, was extremely low. There is a significant minority of people on the island who hold a very negative attitude towards the flying foxes, and these people tend to be older locals (i.e. people of an older generation, who are actually native to the island). Amongst fruit tree owners though, older locals who earned an income from selling their fruit, and had also experienced flying foxes raiding their fruit trees, were more likely to have a negative attitude. Which is not surprising, really! It just goes to show that while we do need to raise awareness, at the same time we also need to provide realistic solutions for minimising conflict between humans and wildlife…
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Durian (Durio zibethinus) flowers in bloom
  • Last but not least, our durian pollination study was one of the most fun aspects of this entire project, and one that has unexpectedly yielded a huge amount of interesting data! This was a pilot study, another new approach and method we trialled which nobody else had tried before. We haven’t had time to analyse the data just yet, and although we may not end up being able to make any definite conclusions about pollination and pollinators just yet, we do have a lot of information about the different animals that visit durian orchards to feed on the flowers, and also their different feeding/foraging behaviour. It seems like the durian tree is a hub of activity providing nourishment for many different animals, playing host to many different network interactions including both mutualisms and antagonisms. It does, however, seem very likely that flying foxes play a very positive mutualistic role in helping to pollinate durian flowers, which helps to produce yummy durian fruit for humans to enjoy. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore this further and take it to the next level, post-PhD, but in the meantime, we’d like you to enjoy some of the awesome photos and videos that delighted us when we first checked our camera traps after several months. Sheema originally presented these images at the 3rd International Southeast Asian Bat Conference in Kuching last year (scroll down…):
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Can you spot the small nectar bat (Eonycteris spelaea) feeding on the flowers? It’s not easy to pick these guys up on the cameras, as they zip in and out so fast!

 

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Now, can you spot the Giant Asian Honeybee (Apis dorsata) that the camera actually managed to pick up?? These actually feed on durian flowers during both day and night, but based on their feeding behaviour we suspect they might actually be pollen robbers instead of pollinators. Need to be really careful around these guys – they’re very territorial and they deliver a nasty sting.

 

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Bonus points for spotting flying fox AND nectar bat!!

 

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A Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) strolls along, probably just passing through

 

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Oh my, is that actually a Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) feeding??? Yup, it’s been said before that the diet of this species includes durian flower buds – and now we have the photographic evidence to prove it!!!

 

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Plantain Squirrels (Callosciurus notatus) are frequent daytime visitors. We originally suspected them to be nectar robbers, because they nibble at the base of the flowers. But sometimes they stick their faces into the flower openings too…so now we’re not quite sure what their exact role is! Antagonism, mutualism…both?

 

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And finally – a thief, caught in the act! We now know that Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) are definitely destroying flowers. Definitely an antagonism!

 

Aaaand, here’s the final treat that we’ve been super excited to share with you: VIDEOS!!! Enjoy! 😀

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