Flying foxes to wilt with climate change, by ABC Science Online’s Stephen Pincock, contends that new research shows some of Australia’s flying foxes face a grave threat from extreme temperatures expected to become more frequent with climate change.
Dr Nicola Markus, an Australian expert on their ecology and co-author of this new research, says, “It bodes extremely badly for the black flying foxes.”
In early 2002, she and an international team of researchers witnessed the deaths of more than 1,300 grey-headed and black flying foxes at Dallis Park in northern New South Wales (most of them females and their dependent young).
“On that day, what we saw was, very simply, that the flying foxes died of heat stress,” Dr Markus said. The temperatures, which exceeded 42 degrees Celsius, killed more than 1,300 of the animals. State-wide, more than 3,500 flying foxes fell to the soaring temperatures in that single heatwave.
Flying foxes are keystone species for forest environments. They have also been central to a taxonomic debate, which asks, are they really primates?
In 1986, Dr. John D. Pettigrew published his findings that all flying fox species (examined) shared the half-dozen brain pathways that were otherwise unique to primates. Under a microscope, their brain affinities with lemurs were difficult to tell apart.
Megabats and microbats had been historically grouped together because of the obvious similarities of their handwings. However, Dr. Pettigrew observed that the differences between to two groups included such things as diet, dentition, chromosomes, world geographic distribution, sperm, biochemistry, parasitology and numerous features of behavior. He also hypothesised that the two groups evolved flight separately, with the mega-chiroptera in the Tertiary era and the micro-chiroptera, much earlier, in the Cretaceous.