Publication update 21: Project Pteropus press release: Durian Industry May Suffer Without Endangered Fruit Bats

Flying foxes pollinate regionally important fruit crop

Kuala Lumpur, 19 September – Scientists here have discovered that Southeast Asia’s highly popular durian tree is pollinated by locally endangered fruit bats known as flying foxes.

By putting camera traps in durian trees on Tioman Island, Malaysia, researchers collected video evidence showing the island flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) pollinating durian flowers, leading to the production of healthy durian fruit. The study has just been published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

Fig.3
Still shots from a video recording of a flying fox feeding on durian flower nectar.

The spiky tropical durian fruit is highly prized throughout its native region. A ubiquitous icon of Southeast Asian culture, it is also a lucrative industry, generating millions of US dollars in local and international trade. And these economic profits owe a huge debt to bats.

Commonly referred to as flying foxes, large fruit bats of the genus Pteropus are severely threatened by hunting and deforestation. They are often sold and eaten as exotic meat due to an unsubstantiated belief that consuming them can help cure asthma and other respiratory problems.

On top of this, they are also persecuted and killed as agricultural pests, as some people claim that the bats cause damage and economic loss by feeding on cultivated fruits. Consequently, these factors have led to severe declines in flying fox populations worldwide.

Yet these bats actually play very important roles as seed dispersers and pollinators in rainforests, especially on islands. The disappearance of flying foxes could thus have disastrous repercussions for tropical ecosystems. Now, this international team of researchers from Malaysia, France, India, and Thailand, in collaboration with Tree Climbers Malaysia, has found that Southeast Asia’s durian supply could be affected too. Continue reading

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Press Release: Mysterious black leopards finally reveal their spots

Leopards, found from the frozen forests of Russia to the scorching sands of the Kalahari Desert, are the most widely distributed large cat on earth. Their iconic spotted coat has been admired and coveted by humans for millennia. However, in just one region in their vast range, mysteriously the leopards are almost all entirely “black” or melanistic – the Malay Peninsula. This dark colouration sometimes hides the spotted pattern which all leopards have; the spots just don’t stand out clearly in melanistic individuals.

Spotted!

“This is a completely unique phenomenon for leopards, and represents perhaps the only known example of a mammal with almost an entire population completely composed of the melanistic form of the species” says Laurie Hedges, lead author of a study who just published a population density estimate on these animals in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

Melanism is a trait which can be found across many mammal species, and especially in big felids. Though theories, ranging from the explosion of Mount Toba in Sumatra to competition with tigers, have been put forward to explain how this unique melanistic population has come about, scientists are still puzzled…

Continue reading

Publication update 7: What is wilderness?

Ever wondered what people mean when they use the word ‘wilderness’?

Selectively logged forest in Terengganu

To most people, the concept of wilderness generally means pristine, untouched nature, free from the destructive taint of humankind. Would you agree? Many early conservationists subscribed to this idea of wild areas that had been spared the human touch, and therefore their efforts were largely aimed at restoring nature to this perceived original state of being untainted and unchanged (e.g. see Sheil and Meijaard, 2010).

However, the truth is, over the many thousands of years that humans have occupied this planet, there are very few habitats that have not actually been influenced by us in some way or another. Continue reading