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My doctoral research seeks to explore the foraging ecology of threatened island flying foxes in their native habitat. Using the endangered Mauritian flying fox as model species, I investigate the influence of invasive alien animals and plants on the foraging ecology of the bat.
The information generated by this research have the potential to contribute for effective conservation management measures that may help alleviate worsening human-wildlife conflict centered on the Mauritian flying fox while restoring the species keystone ecological role within its native habitat.
WHY MAURITIUS AND FLYING FOXES?
Mauritius occurs in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots due to its high endemism level and even higher endangerment rate. Despite being among the last places colonized by humans, the island is one of the most ecologically devastated worldwide. The remaining native terrestrial habitat on Mauritius is highly fragmented and invaded by alien species. These have contributed to the extinction of various species along with their ecological functions. Among the most cited examples is the dodo but it unfortunately only represents the tip of the iceberg of extinction on Mauritius. For example, 40% of mammals, 57% of land birds and 29% of reptiles have gone extinct since humans started impacting the island.
Change in native vegetation cover (green) since human colonization on Mauritius
The current situation poles the Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger) as the largest remaining native fruit-eater on the island owing to human-induced extinction of other large native frugivores, like giant tortoises and dodos. It is threatened with extinction at the ‘Endangered’ level and is ecologically important for seed dissemination and potentially pollination. Those ecological functions are likely enhanced by the bat’s high mobility (capable of crossing the whole island in a single night) as this would help connect forest fragments. Their large body size also enables dissemination of large-seeded native species at least over short distances.
However, besides being threatened by the loss of their native habitat and invasion of the remaining ones by alien animals and plants, Mauritius weakened its biodiversity protection law in 2015 to legalise culls of threatened native species. Poaching, powerline fatalities and above all, culling campaigns in (failed) attempts to reduce attack to commercial fruits have reduced flying foxes’ population to about 37,700 mature individuals (estimated in 2018). A third and fourth mass cull was implemented in 2018 and 2019 respectively and another in 2020. Regular culls of flying foxes are predicted to reduce their population and increasingly threaten the species survival and keystone ecological roles.
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