Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Vulnerable
Listing and Conservation Advices Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pteropus poliocephalus (Grey-headed Flying-fox) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001bw) [Listing Advice].
 
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, included on the Commenced List (1/11/2009).
 
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Policy Statements and Guidelines EPBC Act Administrative Guidelines on Significance - Supplement for the Grey-headed Flying-fox (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003a) [Admin Guideline].
 
Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Bats. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.1 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010m) [Admin Guideline].
 
Information Sheets Flying-foxes and national environmental law (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012g) [Information Sheet].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Inclusion of species in the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (04/12/2001) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2001b) [Legislative Instrument].
 
State Government
    Documents and Websites
NSW:Flying-fox Camp Management Policy (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW DECC), 2007e) [State Species Management Plan].
NSW:Netting of commercial fruit trees - Guidelines to protect wildlife (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2003g) [Information Sheet].
NSW:Nectar Food Trees - North east NSW. Natural Resource Management Advisory Series: Note 4 (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2004l) [Information Sheet].
NSW:Flying-fox Camps - North east NSW. Natural Resource Management Advisory Series: Note 8 (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2004m) [Information Sheet].
NSW:Fleshy Fruited Fruit Trees - North east NSW. Natural Resource Management Advisory Series: Note 5 (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2004n) [Information Sheet].
NSW:Grey-headed Flying-fox - profile (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2005ko) [Internet].
NSW:Best Practice Guidelines for the Grey-headed Flying-fox (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2008j) [Information Sheet].
NSW:Draft National Recovery Plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox Pteropus poliocephalus (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010k) [Recovery Plan].
NSW:Flying-foxes (NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW OEH), 2011) [Internet].
NSW:Code of Practice for Injured, Sick and Orphaned Flying-foxes (NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW OEH), 2012r) [Management Plan].
NSW:Grey-headed Flying-fox vulnerable species listing, final determination (NSW Scientific Committee, 2001) [Internet].
QLD:Code of Practice - Ecologically sustainable lethal take of flying-foxes for crop protection (Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (Qld DEHP), 2013l) [Management Plan].
QLD:Code of Practice - Ecologically sustainable management of flying-fox roosts (Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (Qld DEHP), 2013m) [Management Plan].
QLD:Enhancing biodiversity hotspots along Western Queensland stock routes (Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (Qld DERM), 2009a) [Management Plan].
QLD:Flying-foxes (Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (Qld DERM), 2011a) [Internet].
State Listing Status
NSW: Listed as Vulnerable (Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (New South Wales): December 2013 list)
SA: Listed as Rare (National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (South Australia): Rare species: June 2011 list)
VIC: Listed as Threatened (Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Victoria): February 2014 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Vulnerable (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
VIC: Listed as Vulnerable (Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria: 2013 list)
Scientific name Pteropus poliocephalus [186]
Family Pteropodidae:Chiroptera:Mammalia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Temminck, 1825
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Pteropus poliocephalus

Common name: Grey-headed Flying-fox

Other common name: Grey-headed Fruit-bat

The Grey-headed Flying-Fox is one of the largest bats in the world with a weight of 600–1000 g and a head-body length of 230–289 mm (Eby & Lunney 2002; Tidemann 1998). It is the only Australian flying-fox that has a collar of orange/brown fully encircling its neck (Hall 1987). Thick leg fur extends to the ankle, in contrast to other Pteropus species in which it only reaches the knee (Hall 1987; Tidemann 1998). As its name implies, the head is covered by light grey fur (Hall 1987). The belly fur is grey, often with flecks of white and ginger. The fur on the back shows two morphs which could be related to age, moult or sub-population (Hall & Richards 2000). One morph has dark grey fur and the other has a pronounced silver or frosted appearance (Luckoff undated pers. comm. cited in Hall 1987). Winter fur is darker than summer fur with a pronounced moult occurring in June (Luckoff undated pers. comm. cited in Hall 1987).

Some individuals can be difficult to distinguish from the Black Flying-fox (Pteropus alecto), with which the Grey-headed Flying-Fox sometimes hybridises (Tidemann 1998).

Current distribution

The Grey-headed Flying-fox is Australia's only endemic flying-fox and occurs in the coastal belt from Rockhampton in central Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria (Tidemann 1998). However, only a small proportion of this range is used at any one time, as the species selectively forages where food is available. As a result, patterns of occurrence and relative abundance within its distribution vary widely between seasons and between years. At a local scale, the species is generally present intermittently and irregularly (Eby & Lunney 2002). At a regional scale, broad trends in the distribution of plants with similar flowering and fruiting times support regular annual cycles of migration (Eby & Lunney 2002). Whilst Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne are occupied continuously (Pallin 2000, Hall 2002a, van der Ree et al. 2006), elsewhere, during spring, Grey-headed Flying-foxes are uncommon south of Nowra and widespread in other areas of their range.  The species is widespread throughout their range in summer, whilst in autumn it occupies coastal lowlands and is uncommon inland.  In winter, the species congregrates in coastal lowlands north of the Hunter Valley and is occasionally found on the south coast of NSW (associated with flowering Spotted Gum Corymbia maculata) and on the northwest slopes (generally associated with flowering White Box Eucalyptus albens or Mugga Ironbark E. sideroxylon) (NSW DECCW 2010k). 

The species sometimes ranges into South Australia (Hall & Richards 2000) and occasional individuals have been observed on Bass Strait islands (Tidemann 1998) and mainland Tasmania (Kempton 2010). It is infrequently found west of the Great Dividing Range (Tidemann 1998). The species occurs at a higher latitude than any other megachiropteran (megabat) species (Aston 1987; Menkhorst & Dixon 1985; Parry-Jones & Augee 1991).

2012-15 flying-fox monitoring program

The CSIRO has developed a scientifically rigorous monitoring methodology to gather updated information about the status of the national Grey-headed Flying-fox population and population trends (Westcott et al. 2011). On 31 May 2012, the Australian Government announced $1 500 000 in funding for CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences to implement a four-year monitoring program based on their methodology (DSEWPaC 2012g). The program is coordinated by CSIRO and the Commonwealth government and began in late 2012 with the assistance of State government's (DSEWPaC 2012g).

The Department of the Environment maintains records of known flying-fox camps. These locations have been used to produce maps of the modelled distribution for both Grey-headed and Spectacled Flying-foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus). A list and maps of known and historic Grey-headed Flying-fox camps are available from the department's website (DSEWPaC 2012g). These locations were also used in previous counts (Birt 2005; Eby 2004).

The program will focus primarily on monitoring national Grey-headed and Spectacled Flying-fox populations, however within the range of these two species, counts of Black Flying-fox'es (Pteropus alecto) and Little Red Flying Fox'es (Pteropus scapulatus) will also be undertaken. The monitoring program will include four census's per year for the first three years. CSIRO is also contributing resources into the radio tracking component of the program and working on and funding separately the development of a new generation of energy-efficient technologies that can continuously track the position of flying-foxes (DSEWPaC 2012g).

Melbourne - permanent colonies

Since becoming permanently established at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, in 1981, the colony's numbers have greatly increased. This population reached a total of 20 000 (static count) individuals in February-March 2001 (GFACTF 2001) and peaked, in summer 2003, with around 30 000 individuals (fly-out count) (DSE 2005f; van der Ree et al. 2004). Van der Ree et al. (2004) noted that the number of Grey-headed Flying-foxes within the colony fluctuated seasonally, with a peak in summer/autumn (December–May) and a trough in winter/spring (July–October).

In March 2003, a relocation program commenced, whereby Melbourne's flying-foxes were relocated from the Royal Botanic Gardens to form two new colonies. The main colony is located at Yarra Bend Park, five km north east of Melbourne's Central Business District, and the second smaller colony is at Eastern Park in Geelong, approximately 60 km south of the city (DSE 2005f).

Former distribution

Collett (1897) and Andersen (1912) recorded Grey-headed Flying-foxes from far North Queensland. In 1929–30, camp sites, occupied permanently or regularly, were found from Rockhampton in Queensland to Mallacoota in Victoria, along the eastern coast to 100 km inland in Queensland and to the eastern edge of the escarpment in NSW (Ratcliffe 1931). By including areas used less consistently, the range was subsequently extended to include the southern boundary to Warrnambool in Victoria and the inland boundary of the species' range to the western slopes of NSW (Nelson 1965a, 1965b).

The national population of the Grey-headed Flying-fox is spatially structured into colonies (Parry-Jones & Wardle 2004). However, there are no separate or distinct populations due to the constant genetic exchange and movement between camps throughout the species' entire geographic range. This indicates that there is one single interbreeding population (Webb & Tidemann 1995; DSE 2005f).

National counts and population estimates

A number of national counts in different years has provided population estimates of the Grey-headed Flying-fox over time, as listed below. However, these estimates are based on incomplete knowledge of camp location and use.  

Year Estimate Notes Author
May, 2005 674 000 The 2005 national count figure was considered to be markedly higher than previous, due to: counter error; a possible higher rate of survival of young born in 2004 as a result of food availability and lower culling; and a concentration of individuals on the southern and central coasts of NSW as a result of intense flowering of the Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata) during the counting period (Birt 2005). Birt 2005; Eby 2004
April, 2004 425 000   Birt 2005; Eby 2004
April, 2003 435 000   Birt 2005; Eby 2004
April, 2001 320 000   Birt 2005; Eby 2004
April, 1999 355 000   Birt 2005; Eby 2004
1998 360 000–400 000 A national count was undertaken in 1998, but it occurred during a time of the year when the species is usually dispersed (Duncan et al. 1999). Birt unpubl. cited in McIlwee & Martin 2002; Eby and colleagues 1999
1989 566 000 15 of 23 known camps counted Parry-Jones 2000

Due to its wide distribution and extensive mobility, annual national counts of the Grey-headed Flying-fox have not taken place since 2005.

Captive populations

Tidemann (1998) notes that the species thrives in captivity and, given suitable food, breeds freely.

The Grey-headed Flying-fox requires foraging resources and roosting sites. It is a canopy-feeding frugivore and nectarivore, which utilises vegetation communities including rainforests, open forests, closed and open woodlands, Melaleuca swamps and Banksia woodlands. It also feeds on commercial fruit crops and on introduced tree species in urban areas. The primary food source is blossom from Eucalyptus and related genera but in some areas it also utilises a wide range of rainforest fruits (Eby 1998). None of the vegetation communities used by the Grey-headed Flying-fox produce continuous foraging resources throughout the year. As a result, the species has adopted complex migration traits in response to ephemeral and patchy food resources (Duncan et al. 1999; Eby 1996, 1998; Nelson 1965a; Parry-Jones & Augee 1992; Spencer et al. 1991).

The Grey-headed Flying-fox roosts in aggregations of various sizes on exposed branches. Roost sites are typically located near water, such as lakes, rivers or the coast (van der Ree et al. 2005). Roost vegetation includes rainforest patches, stands of Melaleuca, mangroves and riparian vegetation (Nelson 1965a; Ratcliffe 1931), but colonies also use highly modified vegetation in urban and suburban areas (Birt et al. 1998; Tidemann & Vardon 1997; van der Ree et al. 2005). The species can maintain fidelity to roost sites for extended periods (Lunney & Moon 1997), although new sites have been colonised (Tidemann & Vardon 1997).

Sexual maturity

Generally, females do not reach full sexual maturity until three years of age (Martin 2000). However, of the 46 female Grey-headed Flying-foxes and Black Flying-foxes in a captive breeding colony, pregnancy occurred in the second year for some individuals (McIlwee & Martin 2002).

Reproduction

Mating occurs in early autumn, after which time the larger camps begin to break up, reforming in late spring/early summer, as food resources become more abundant (Hall & Richards 2000). Males and females segregate in October when females usually give birth. Following six months of gestation, females bear a single young each year. Twins are rare (Martin 2000). During birthing, the female hangs by the feet with young being born headfirst and subsequently positioned with the mother's wings folded around the young's head (Nelson 1965b; Martin et al. 1987). Lactation usually begins in October and continues for three to four months or sometimes longer (Nelson 1965b).

For a period of four to five weeks after giving birth, the mother carries her single young with her to feeding sites. Young are carried on the ventral surface of their foraging mothers (Tidemann 1998). Once the young are completely furred, they are left in maternal camps and continue to be nursed until they are independent after around 12 weeks (Hall & Richards 2000). During this nursery phase, males rejoin the females for courting with pair bonds being formed (Hall & Richards 2000).

In the wild, as most adult female Grey-headed Flying-foxes conceive one young annually (Nelson 1965b; Towers & Martin 1985, 1995), they have a low maximum rate of population growth for their size (Parry-Jones 2000). This slow growth rate is further affected by females' tendency to abort (Dukelow et al. 1990) or abandon their young (Tidemann 1998) in response to environmental stress, such as food shortages or high temperatures.  As a result, mass abortions and premature births are known to occur in the wild (Hall et al. 1991).

Life expectancy

Tidemann and Nelson (2011) inferred an average life expectancy of 7.1 ± 3.9 years and a generation length of 7.4 ± 3.76 years for wild Grey-headed Flying-foxes based on the recapture of 86 banded bats. Recaptured hand-reared bats were found to live half as long as wild bats (Tideman & Nelson 2011). A captive male Grey-headed Flying-fox taken into care at the age of six months died at the age of 23 years (Pritchard 2001); a wild bat was recaptured at 18 years (Tidemann & Nelson 2011).

Mortality

Heat-related deaths in Australian flying-foxes have been documented repeatedly since European settlement. A heatwave in north-east NSW in January, 2004, coincided with a field study of reproductive output in Grey-headed Flying-foxes, providing a unique opportunity to assess the relative impact of temperature on animals in the Bellingen Island, NSW, roost (Eby et al. 2004). During the study, on January 7, 2004, the ambient temperature exceeded 45 °C and an estimated 5000–7000 individuals died. There was a significant impact on dependent young less than 4 months old (young = 33.6% of the pre-heat wave population and 94.3% of dead individuals) and the percentage of adult females with young reduced from 84.1% to 66.5% (Eby et al. 2004).

In one study major causes of death of 86 wild Grey-headed Flying-foxes were: hyperthermia (33.7%); electrocution (18.6%); entanglement in fruit-tree netting (5.8%); entanglement in barbed wire (4.7%); unknown (32.6%) (Tidemann & Nelson 2011). Seventy-seven percent of recoveries of wild-banded bats were within 20 km of where they were banded (Tidemann & Nelson 2011).

Ecosystem maintenance

The Grey-headed Flying-fox is important to the health and maintenance of many ecosystems in eastern Australia. The species performs pollination and seed dispersal for a wide range of native trees, including commercially important hardwood and rainforest species, such as native figs and palms (Tidemann 1998). It contributes directly to the reproduction, regeneration and the evolutionary processes of forest ecosystems. If numbers of Grey-headed Flying-foxes were reduced to small or localised groups, then rainforest seed dispersal and hardwood pollination processes would be severely curtailed (Richards 2000).

The Grey-headed Flying-Fox has a diverse native diet, which it supplements with introduced plants (Eby 1995, 1998; Hall & Richards 2000; Parry-Jones & Augee 1991). Nectar and pollen from the flowers of eucalypts (genera Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora), melaleucas and banksias are the primary food for the species (Duncan et al. 1999). Most eucalypts have regular seasonal flowering schedules but do not flower every year, and there are a few areas within the range of the Grey-headed Flying-fox where nectar is available continuously (House 1997; Law et al. 2000; Wilson & Bennett 1999). The species has no adaptations for withstanding food shortages, and migrates in response to changes in the amount and location of flowering (Eby 1991; Eby & Lunney 2002; Spencer et al. 1991).

Like other species of Australian flying-fox, the Grey-headed Flying-fox will take cultivated fruits (Hall & Richards 2000). Flying-foxes cause crop losses by puncturing fruit with their teeth and claws, soiling fruit from the orchard and damaging trees by breaking limbs, particularly new growth carrying next season's fruiting buds (Ullio 2002). The Grey-headed Flying-fox is capable of causing direct losses to horticulturalists in NSW and is the main species responsible for crop losses in this State (Ullio 2002).

Studies of other Pteropididae in Africa have shown that significant events such as mating (Wolten et al. 1982), lactation (Thomas & Marshall 1984) and migration (Thomas 1983) coincide with a predictable abundance of native fruit (Parry-Jones & Augee 1991).

The Grey-headed Flying-fox is highly mobile (Menkhorst 1995; Tidemann 1998) and the national population is fluid, moving up and down the east coast in search of food. For example, two individuals fitted with satellite tracking devices made round trips of more than 2000 km over a nine-month period (Tidemann & Nelson 2004; van der Ree et al. 2005).

Daily movements

Grey-headed Flying-foxes commute daily to foraging areas, usually within 15 km of the day roost site (Tidemann 1998). Grey-headed Flying-foxes are capable of nightly flights of up to 50 km from their roost to different feeding areas as food resources change (Eby unpubl. cited in Eby 1991). With suitable winds, Grey-headed Flying-foxes can cruise at speeds in excess of 35 km per hour for extended periods (Tidemann 1998). At most times of the year there is a complete exodus from the colony site at dusk. The exception to this rule occurs in spring and early summer when juveniles are left in the nursery colony sites at night. During this time small groups of adult flying-foxes leave the site more than an hour after the majority of bats fly out. In nursery colonies flying-foxes fly in and out of the site throughout the night (Parry-Jones & Augee 1992).

Seasonal movements

Previous studies of movements of the species in northern NSW and southern Queensland have indicated that various seasonal movements occur among camps. It is believed that Grey-headed Flying-foxes respond to changes in the amount of available food by migrating between camps in irregular patterns (Eby 2000).

Ratcliffe (1931), working on Pteropus in eastern Australia, considered that annual southerly movements occurred from northern and central Queensland into NSW in spring and summer, with return migrations in late autumn. Nelson (1965a) suggested a pattern of dispersal from large summer breeding camps near Brisbane (Queensland) to small winter groups in the same region, and suggested that the movements were a response to the availability of food. McWilliam (1986), working in the Richmond River catchment area in north-eastern NSW, observed a seasonal migration from the coast to inland areas, which he attributed to both temperature and food availability (Eby 1991).

The movements and numbers of Grey-headed Flying-foxes were recorded in and around a colony site at Matcham, Gosford, NSW, between 1986 and 1990 (Parry-Jones & Augee 1992). During all four years of the study, population numbers were high during the period March to May, corresponding with the mating season reported by McGuckin and Blackshaw (1987). After mating, there was a rapid or gradual abandonment of the Matcham site, depending on the year, as the bats dispersed to scattered sites within the surrounding area (Parry-Jones & Augee 1992).

Detectability

The Grey-headed Flying-fox is the only Australian flying-fox that has a collar of orange/brown fur fully encircling its neck. It is also the only species where the fur goes down to the ankle, while in other flying-foxes the fur extends to the knee (DEWHA 2010m).

Seasonal considerations

Grey-headed Flying-fox presence will be dependent on food resources. The time and location of flowering and fruiting of diet plants varies among seasons and years. In particular, drought years can have a strong influence on eucalypt flowering times. Sites noted as important in one year or period may not be visited again in the following year. In short, the presence or absence of this species at a site during a particular time or year may not necessarily be indicative of the importance of that habitat area to the species (DEWHA 2010m).

Recommended survey approach

The Grey-headed Flying-fox occupies most areas in their distribution in highly irregular patterns, and, therefore, surveys based on animal sightings are unlikely to be reliable. A more effective survey method is to search appropriate databases and other sources for the locations of camps, and to conduct vegetation surveys to identify feeding habitat (DEWHA 2010m).

Prior to the survey

A review of known flying fox camps should be conducted for the project area and the wider general area. The location of many camps is known, and the information is available through databases held by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, the Australasian Bat Society and in the literature. There is a network of people with knowledge about camp location and seasonal movements. For example, often, local people, orchardists, apiarists, parks officers and forestry workers, wildlife groups, the flying fox carer network and traditional owners will know if camps exist or have existed in or near the project area, and, if so, whether they are likely to be occupied at the time of the survey (DEWHA 2010m).

Daytime field surveys for camps

The primary method for determining the presence of unrecorded day roosts is to conduct field surveys. Flying-foxes are recognised easily from a distance while they roost or are in flight, and have distinctive audible calls that are heard most frequently in the early morning or under sunny conditions. Other signs include their distinctive odour and droppings. Both the ground and foliage should be examined for flying-fox scats. Some project areas may require access by boat. Note that this species rarely vocalises during rain and some periods of the day. Roosts can also be located by surveying for animals exiting at dusk. For very large and/or inaccessible project areas, it may be necessary to conduct an aerial survey for camps from a light aircraft (DEWHA 2010m).

Surveys of vegetation communities and food plants

Vegetation communities, within the core range of Grey-headed Flying-foxes, have been mapped and the significance of each community, as feeding habitat, has been ranked by Eby and Law (2008 cited in DEWHA 2010m). This ranking should be consulted to help identify vegetation communities in the project area. Vegetation maps, based on modelled data, may be less useful as they do not always accurately represent field conditions. Furthermore, field surveys should be conducted by a qualified botanist to confirm the vegetation communities in the project area and the presence of food plants (DEWHA 2010m).

Night time surveys

Conduct walking transects (100 m apart) looking for feeding and flying bats. Smell can also provide a sign of their presence. Alternative methods may include night time audio recordings made at selected sites or where fruiting food plants occur within the project area (DEWHA 2010m).

Biological factors

Based on the longevity of captive animals (up to 23 years), their strict breeding season and single birth per year, McIlwee and Martin (2002) suggest that Australian flying-foxes have evolved in conditions where individuals experience low levels of natural mortality and long survival times in the wild, probably upwards of 15 years. However, since European settlement, flying-fox mortality has increased due to habitat destruction and culling (McIlwee & Martin 2002).

Habitat loss and fragmentation

Post-European settlement, clearing of native vegetation for agriculture and forestry operations has accelerated and has been particularly widespread over the range of the Grey-headed Flying-fox in eastern Australia (State of the Environment Advisory Council 1996). The loss of native habitat is assumed to have resulted in the destruction or disturbance of roosting and foraging habitats of the species.

The complexity of habitat requirements of the Grey-headed Flying-fox, particularly for multiple, geographically dispersed populations of food trees, militates against its conservation within a system of forest reserves.  As a result, the species is vulnerable to land use decisions outside such reserves (Eby 1996; Parry-Jones 1993; Pressey 1994; Tidemann & Vardon 1997).

Habitat loss has resulted in a decrease in the variety of flowering and fruiting tree species, particularly those that usually have a high nectar output (Birt 2000). Over 70% of Melaleuca forests have been cleared since European settlement. This tree species usually provides an important food source for flying-foxes. Also, extensive areas containing Forest Red Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis) and Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata) have been cleared, both of which are important wintering flower tree species (Birt 2000).

Annually, reliable winter resources are limited in distribution to a narrow coastal strip in Queensland and northern NSW, and primarily occur on freehold land (Eby 1996; Pressey et al. 1996). These coastal areas, containing important winter flowering species, particularly Broad-leaved Paper Bark (Melaleuca quinquenervia), Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata), Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) and Forest Red Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis), are targeted for intensive residential development (NSW Department of Planning 1995). For example, 70% of the Broad-leaved Paper Bark swamps, between Noosa Heads and Tweed Heads, has been lost to urban development (Hall unpub. cited in Duncan et al. 1999).

Spring foraging resources are considered to be critical to the survival of the species. Reliable resources during late gestation, birth and early lactation are required to avoid rapid weight loss in adults and poor reproductive success (Eby 1999; Collins 2000; Parry-Jones & Augee 2001). Spring food shortages have been reported over large portions of the range in six of the past 20 years, and more frequently in some local areas (Parry-Jones & Augee 2001; Teagle 2002).

Lack of foraging resources can also force Grey-headed Flying-foxes into commercial fruit crops, increasing conflict with growers and subsequent culling of individuals (Teagle 2002).

The loss of roosting habitat has also been identified as a threat to Grey-headed Flying-foxes (Tidemann et al. 1999, NSW Scientific Committee 2001). Roost sites have often been exposed to the same historical patterns of foraging habitat clearance and degradation (Lunney & Moon 1997). Whilst the species' specific roosting requirements is not fully known, the loss of habitat has forced the Grey-headed Flying-fox to set up daytime roosts in suburban areas. These areas often retain small tracts of bushland and mangroves for conservation value, and it is these sites that flying-foxes are attracted to (Birt 2000). Birt (2000) stresses that, before European settlement, flying-foxes frequented these areas and, therefore, are not necessarily 'new' sites. The impact on the species from the loss of long-term sites, or the degradation of small remnants to the point that they are no longer used, is also not known (Pallin 2000).

Loss of habitat causes an increase in the animal's energy expenditure, as individuals need to fly greater distances between campsites and feeding areas as well as between individual campsites along migratory routes.  As a result, flying-foxes have had to resort to alternative food sources, such as fruit crops which carry a greater risk of death for individuals through shooting, electrocution or poison (Birt 2000).

Exploitation

The Grey-headed Flying-fox can destroy commercial fruit grown in Queensland and NSW (Jamieson 1988, Slack 1990; Tidemann et al. 1997). Shooting flying-foxes has been the most common method to protect fruit crops (Teagle 2002). Permit systems in NSW and Victoria have regulated destruction activities whilst Queensland ceased permits for shooting in 2008. Presently, NSW is the only State issuing shooting licences, although this is to be phased out over three years from March 2011 (NSW OEH 2011). The number of flying-foxes shot illegally is unknown, but estimates as high as 100 000 annually have been made (Vardon & Tidemann 1995).  As a result, the impact of Grey-headed Flying-foxes from shooting, on population size and demographic structure, remains unquantified.  The impact is more substantial than direct deaths alone would indicate, for a large proportion of animals shot in orchards are pregnant and lactating females (Parry-Jones 1993; Tidemann et al. 1997). Juveniles who remain in maternity camps and are dependent on lactating females are known to die of starvation when lactating females are killed (Nelson 1965b; Parry-Jones 1993; Ratcliffe 1931).

Competition and hybridisation

There is no evidence that Black Flying-fox (P. alecto) and Grey-headed Flying-fox use agonistic behaviour to compete directly for resources (Eby pers. obs. cited in NSW DECCW 2010k; Markus pers. obs. cited in NSW DECCW 2010k). The two species share roosts and diet plants. However, following a substantial southerly shift by the Black Flying-fox, since it was first described, into coastal areas inhabited by the Grey-headed Flying-fox (Webb & Tidemann 1995), it has been suggested that indirect competition is favouring the Black Flying-fox. This observation is based on the increasing displacement of Grey-headed Flying-foxes in coastal areas, north from the Clarence Valley and in the tablelands of southeast Queensland (Birt 2000, Hall 2002a, Eby 2004).  Moreover, in Brisbane, the numbers of Grey-headed Flying-foxes, in comparison to Black Flying-foxes, declined markedly during the 1990s (Luckoff undated pers. comm. cited in Duncan et al. 1999).

Grey-headed Flying-foxes and Black-headed Flying-foxes are closely related species that share many behavioural and ecological characterstics.  Both species are synchronous, seasonal breeders and their annual reproductive cycles are closely aligned at subtropical latitudes (Nelson 1965b, Webb and Tidemann 1995, Martin et al. 1996).  Hybrids between Grey-headed Flying-foxes and Black Flying-foxes have occurred in captivity (Luckoff pers. comm. cited in Duncan et al. 1999). Hall (1987) noted that a female Grey-headed Flying-fox mated with a male Black Flying-fox and produced a female offspring which possessed mainly the features of a Grey-headed Flying-fox, that is, fully encircling collar and hairy legs.

Pollutants, electrocution and pathogens

Some urban-dwelling Grey-headed Flying-foxes accumulate lethal levels of lead from the environment (Hariono et al. 1992).  Individuals are also prone to electrocution on powerlines, particularly in urban areas, and a disproportionately high number of lactating females are killed (Duncan et al. 1999). The effects of the pathogens, Australian bat Lyssavirus (ABL), Bat Paramyxovirus and Menangle Pig virus (Hoar et al. 1998), on the Grey-headed Flying-fox are unknown. However, the incidence of ABL in the species is very low whilst approximately 25% of wild flying-foxes carry antibodies to Menangle Pig virus (University of Sydney, 2000).

Habitat management in the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve, Gordon

Since 1985, the Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society has managed a program of habitat restoration in the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve in Gordon, a northern suburb of Sydney. This reserve consists of 14.6 ha of land including the steep slopes and floor of a bushland valley (Ku-ring-gai Council 1999 cited in Larsen et al. 2002). Grey-headed Flying-foxes have been known to roost in the valley since the mid-1960s. The colony was concentrated around the western end of the reserve until spring 1991, when the flying-foxes moved south-east and further downstream to the present location in the central section of the reserve (Larsen et al. 2002). Parry-Jones and Wardle (2004) noted that the size of the colony during the month of October, consisting of approximately 32 000 individuals, has generally remained unaltered over a ten year period.

The Action Plan for Australian Bats

The following recovery information has been reproduced from The Action Plan for Australian Bats (Duncan et al. 1999):

Recovery objectives

  • Stabilise the population at its 1999 level.
  • Define patterns of landscape use, and identify and protect essential habitat.
  • Develop non-destructive methods for crop protection.
  • Develop non-destructive methods for management of camps in problem areas.
  • Ensure consistent management of the species across relevant States (Queensland, NSW and Victoria).

Management and research actions required

  • Validate methods for estimating population size and demographics.
  • Develop and implement a population monitoring program.
  • Document status of foraging habitat in space and time to:
    • identify high priority conservation areas
    • guide forest management practices
    • provide information for revegetation programs which may enhance habitat (particularly winter resources).
  • Seek funding from orchard industry and relevant government agencies to develop practical and cost effective non-destructive methods for on-crop control. Suggested scope of research could include:
    • testing of existing methodologies such as acoustic and other repellant methods, and exclusion netting
    • evaluation of the cost and methods of containing damage
    • development of clear guidelines for implementation of mitigation methods by fruit growers.
  • Facilitate protection of existing camp sites and foraging habitat on private land. Considerations could include:
    • identification of where camps occur and what land tenure exists at these sites
    • development of conservation agreements with landowners
    • identification of alternative camp sites and encouragement of relocation to these sites, where necessary, in problem situations.
  • Develop a national recovery plan which coordinates management actions in relevant States (Queensland, NSW and Victoria).

Commonwealth funding of local Grey-headed Flying-fox projects

The following projects have received Government grants for conservation and recovery work benefiting the Grey-headed Flying-fox:

  • The Gympie & District Landcare Group Inc received $16 800 through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2005–06 for the protection and enhancement of roosting sites through eradication of weed species, fencing out stock, revegetation and the promotion of conservation through signage, newsletters, brochures and press releases.
  • The Bellingen Island Landcare Group received $19 000 through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2000–01 for weeding of remnant rainforest, interpretative signage, improved access to the site, and the spreading of knowledge and expertise in bush regeneration to highlight forest habitat values.
  • Bat Rescue Inc. received $16 081 through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2004–05 for the stabilisation of existing roosting sites, and a community education program to raise public awareness of this species.
  • Natural Heritage Trust 2 funding was granted to the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service in 2004–05 who entered into collaborative partnerships with local interest groups such as Gympie Landcare and Noah's Ark Wildlife Coalition. This funding was utilised to undertake strategic habitat protection and rehabilitation programs at key Grey-headed Flying-fox colony sites in South-east Queensland involving weed removal, replanting of appropriate native tree species, protection of habitat and the development of local educational materials promoting the value of flying-foxes as part of the ecosystem. Colony sites identified in the project included Woodend (Ipswich City), Tallebudgera (Gold Coast City) and Gympie (Cooloola Shire) (Kerr 2006).
  • The Colquhoun-North Arm Landcare Group received $17 600 through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2004–05 for the restoration of 2.25 ha of warm temperate rainforest around the north arm of Lakes Entrance to provide feeding habitat for this species.
  • A Central Coast Regent Honeyeater Volunteer received $10 815 through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2005–06, part of which was for habitat assessment of the Grey-headed Flying-fox to ensure availability of long-term winter resources.
  • The Lakes Entrance Golf Club Inc. (Victoria) received $11 000 through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2004–05, part of which was for the maintenance and improvement of local native vegetation that supports the Grey-headed Flying fox.
  • The Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society Inc received $7868, through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants in 2007–08, part of which was used for habitat restoration. This project focused on the micro-climate preferences of roosting Grey-headed Flying-foxes within the greater Sydney region by looking at the difference in habitat characteristics between the core and outer extremity of six camps. Bush regeneration will continue outside the Ku-ring-gai camp area and the Society will continue to provide information to other groups involved in Grey-headed Flying-fox conservation.

A number of research projects have focused on the Grey-headed Flying-fox, including:

  • the role of flying foxes in the dispersal of seeds and pollen (Tidemann 1998)
  • a radiotelemetry case study on the seasonal movements of 22 flying-foxes between two maternity camps in north-east NSW (Eby 1991)
  • a radio tracking case study on the integration of hand reared individuals into wild populations (Augee & Ford 1999)
  • a ten year monitoring program and subsequent population modelling of flying foxes in Gordon, Sydney (Parry-Jones & Wardle 2004)
  • the factors affecting foraging in the metropolitan area of Melbourne (McDonald-Madden et al. 2005).

Key management documentation available for this species includes:

  • Flying-fox Camp Management Policy (NSW DECC 2007e)
  • Flying-fox Campsite Management Plan, Yarra Bend Park (DSE 2005f)
  • The Action Plan for Australian Bats (Duncan et al. 1999)
  • Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Management Plan (Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council 1999)
  • Draft National Recovery Plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox (NSW DECCW 2010k).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Agriculture and Aquaculture:Land clearing, habitat fragmentation and/or habitat degradation
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate change altering atmosphere/hydrosphere temperatures, rainfall patterns and/or frequency of severe weather events Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan - NSW & Queensland (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010n) [State Recovery Plan].
Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010p) [State Recovery Plan].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Habitat Shifting and Alteration:Habitat loss, modification and/or degradation Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan - NSW & Queensland (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010n) [State Recovery Plan].
Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010p) [State Recovery Plan].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Indirect Ecosystem Effects:Loss and/or fragmentation of habitat and/or subpopulations Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan - NSW & Queensland (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010n) [State Recovery Plan].
Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010p) [State Recovery Plan].
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human induced disturbance due to unspecified activities Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan - NSW & Queensland (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010n) [State Recovery Plan].
Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010p) [State Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation by weeds Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan - NSW & Queensland (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010n) [State Recovery Plan].
Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2010p) [State Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:pest animal control Pteropus poliocephalus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ta) [Internet].
Residential and Commercial Development:Residential and Commercial Development:Habitat modification (clearance and degradation) due to urban development Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pteropus poliocephalus (Grey-headed Flying-fox) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001bw) [Listing Advice].
Species Stresses (suggest Reproductive Resilience?):Indirect Species Effects:Reduction of genetic intergrity of a species due to hybridisation Pteropus poliocephalus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ta) [Internet].
Transportation and Service Corridors:Utility and Service Lines:Powerline easement maintenance and construction; mortality due to collision with powerlines Pteropus poliocephalus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006ta) [Internet].

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Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Pteropus poliocephalus in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Fri, 29 Aug 2014 09:56:54 +1000.