Project Pteropus

Lead Researcher: Sheema

Call for collaborations: Since Project Pteropus is the first attempt in Malaysia to focus on the conservation ecology of flying foxes and other pteropodids, we would really like to sustain this initiative and develop it into a long-term, integrated, and multi-disciplinary effort across the country. In order to do this however, we need funding, we need a team, and we need collaborators. If you are working on Malaysian pteropodids or are planning to do so, please do contact Sheema to discuss potential collaborations on ecological or conservation projects. Please see the bottom of this project description for a list of our research topics of interest that we could potentially collaborate on.

Project description: Fruit bats such as flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) are under severe threat in Peninsular Malaysia due to hunting (for food and medicine) and extermination (as agricultural pests). They are often viewed negatively, and are not charismatic flagship species, so there is little motivation to conserve them. Yet the decline of flying fox populations could have serious implications for Malaysia’s forest ecosystems, as well as people’s livelihoods and well-being – especially on tropical islands. This is particularly important as flying foxes still do not have total legal protection from hunting in Peninsular Malaysia. See here for further information on these issues and how Rimba has been involved.

Pteropus hypomelanus
Pteropus hypomelanus

Ecologists know that fruit bats provide important ecosystem services through seed dispersal and pollination. However, how do these processes happen? What are the specific benefits to people? How can we communicate to policymakers and local communities that this is why we should conserve flying foxes? Can fruit bats and humans coexist in peace? This project aims to answer some of these questions and provide baseline data to support the conservation of flying foxes and other fruit bats in Peninsular Malaysia. It employs a strong applied conservation approach, utilising both ecological and social studies.

The first phase of this project has wrapped up now, as Sheema concluded her PhD in Paris in November 2016. We hope to secure further funding to continue the work and extend the project further into the long term, but at the moment the project is on hiatus while Sheema takes a sabbatical. We are keen to collaborate with others in order to work on the following aspects:

  1. Peninsula-wide Pteropus survey to identify populations and roost localities, particularly to conduct a population census of P. hypomelanus for which no baseline data currently exist.
  2. Ecosystem services of flying foxes, particularly their role in pollination of fruit trees such as durian, including economic valuation, and engagement with the commercial durian industry. But also seed dispersal and satellite tracking studies to further elucidate interactions between flying foxes, plants, and people.
  3. Pollination services of nectarivorous bats (e.g. Eonycteris spelaea) as a means to push for the conservation of habitats such as limestone karsts (crossover with Project Limestone; this can also extend to ecosystem services of insectivorous cave bats e.g. Chaerophon spp., Scotophilus kuhlii).
  4. Mitigating conflict between fruit bats and fruit growers, particularly to develop, test, and implement mitigation methods to avoid/reduce fruit damage caused by bats.
  5. Public outreach programs, including the development of awareness materials on bat ecosystem services. Targeted at the general public, but also with special focus on local communities who coexist with flying foxes, and/or interact with them.
  6. Creating a reference library for bat food plants in Malaysia, comprising: herbarium samples, pollen, seeds, and DNA sequences.