Environment Australia, 1999
ISBN 0 642 2546 363
Bats are one of the least known and most mysterious groups of mammals in the minds of the public. Traditionally they have been viewed as animals which belong in the realm of horror movies, with an appeal akin to spiders, snakes, creepy-crawlies and other much-maligned animals. They are gradually being given better press as scientific study reveals the wonderful intricacies of their biology and as public awareness of the role they play in plant pollination and regulation of insect numbers improves.
In recent times bats have been brought into the spotlight as their management has become an issue of community concern. Two flying-fox species, Pteropus conspicillatus and Pteropus poliocephalus, feed on fruit and have for a long time been regarded by commercial fruit growers as ‘pest species’ inflicting commercial damage on fruit crops in Eastern Australia. Traditionally, shooting has been the main method for crop protection. However, as this Action Plan demonstrates, conservation of both species has also become a concern as habitat clearance continues to increase. The development of effective non-lethal crop protection techniques is a challenge facing the community, which is essential to the long-term conservation of these species.
Another recently emerged issue of community concern is the danger posed by viral diseases carried by bats, Australian bat Lyssavirus and Equine Morbillivirus (Hendra virus) and Menangle Pig Virus. Not only are potential effects on bats unknown but the first two of these viral diseases have been transmitted to humans with fatal results. Management of public health issues wherever bats and humans interact has thus become a real necessity.
In terms of species numbers, bats are the second largest group of mammals in the world, the 950 or so bat species from 18 families comprising one fifth of all mammal species. In Australia there are 90 taxa from seven families, and these comprise 25% of the Australian terrestrial mammal fauna.
Bats appear to have survived European settlement of Australia better than other mammal groups, possibly because of their mobility. While there have been local extinctions of populations, no species has become extinct. However, the effects of human settlement are apparently creeping up on bats: the major threats identified in this Action Plan include habitat clearing, roost disturbance and forest harvesting. Of the 90 bat taxa recognised in this Action Plan, one is extinct, nine are critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable, one is conservation dependent, 11 are considered to be ‘near threatened’ (close to being considered vulnerable), and 14 species are ‘data deficient’. Thus, almost half of all bat species are of some conservation concern or the knowledge is lacking to determine their conservation status.
Development of this Action Plan for Australian Bats has been a long and arduous task, originally commencing in 1990. The process has been successful in bringing together and focussing Australian bat researchers on the conservation status of species and the actions necessary to conserve species. The Action Plan can now serve as a benchmark of knowledge from which conservation status can be better judged in the future. It will play a key role in determining priorities for conservation research and management necessary to conserve Australia’s bat species.