The Fijian Flying Fox (Mirimiri acrodonta)

The Fijian Flying Fox (Mirimiri acrodonta)

 Mirimiri Fiji Flying Fox Photo Guy Bottroff

Mirimiri Fiji Flying Fox Photo Guy Bottroff

Description

The Fijian flying fox is the smallest of the three fruit bats found in Fiji, with adult body size (nose tip – anus) ranging from 18cm (females) to 20cm (males). [Please note that Fiji has six species of native bats; the other three species of bats are either insectivorous (2) or nectarivorous (1)]. The fur of the Fijian flying fox is a dull olive green to yellow in colour. The fur of the mantle and head is soft and khaki in colour. The hair over the back and rump is shorter in length, and khaki in colour for females, and a golden colour for males. The eyes are a distinguishing feature in that they are bright orange in colour. The Fijian Flying fox has characteristic cuspidate or pointed teeth, which are not found in any other Fijian fruit bat or flying fox.

Distribution

To date, this endemic flying fox has only been found in the montane cloud forest around Des Voeux Peak

Habitat Ecology and Behaviour

Until 2009, no ecological research had been undertaken on this flying fox and nothing was known about it other than its nocturnal habits and its apparent restriction to montane cloud forest over 900m. The cuspidate teeth suggest a diet of fruit and plant material that is tougher than typical for other Fiji fruit bats. Observations believed to be of these bats have revealed that they roost in pairs in epiphytic fern clumps (6-10m height above ground) on trunks of larger trees.

Threats

The fact that this species is an island endemic, with a very restricted range (one of the most restricted distributions of all bats) increases its risk of extinction in the wild. The Fijian Flying Fox habitat, the montane cloud forest, has a limited distribution in Fiji, and is also of global conservation concern because of its vulnerability to climate change and slow recovery after hurricanes. Hurricanes cause tree fall gaps which allow introduced species to enter the ecosystem, thus changing the unique species composition of montane forests. Land clearing for plantations along the mid slopes and in places the upper slopes of Taveuni’s forests may aid the movement of Fiji’s two other flying fox species (Pteropus tonganus andP.samoensis) up towards the summit, thus increasing the risk of competition with the small population of Fijian Flying Foxes.

Conservation Status

Recent partnered research between the University of South Australia and USP, with assistance by NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (through the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund) in 2009 led to the first ever capture and release of a pregnant Fijian flying fox caught on Des Veoux Peak in May 2009. This was the first confirmed sighting and capture of the bat after nearly 19 years. The search for the bat lasted for 40 days, but no more bats were observed or caught; confirming that this is indeed a very rare species.
There is an unconfirmed observation of this species on Delaikoro Peak in Vanua Levu and it is conceivable it may be found elsewhere in Fiji. However, this is yet to be confirmed and until research on the ecology and distribution of this bat is undertaken, it remains known only as a small population confined to the upland montane forests of Taveuni. Research is urgently needed to enable us to draw up and implement a conservation management plan, until that is done, this remarkable and Fiji’ only endemic bat is very vulnerable to extinction.
The people of Taveuni play a key role in the sighting and conservation of this species. NatureFiij-MareqetiViti is drawing up a species recovery plan that will outline future conservation actions – with the communities of Taveuni – for our Fijian flying fox.

Remarks and Cultural Significance

Recent partnered research between the University of South Australia and USP, with assistance by NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (through the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund) in 2009 led to the first ever capture and release of a pregnant Fijian flying fox caught on Des Veoux Peak in May 2009. This was the first confirmed sighting and capture of the bat after nearly 19 years. The search for the bat lasted for 40 days, but no more bats were observed or caught; confirming that this is indeed a very rare species.
There is an unconfirmed observation of this species on Delaikoro Peak in Vanua Levu and it is conceivable it may be found elsewhere in Fiji. However, this is yet to be confirmed and until research on the ecology and distribution of this bat is undertaken, it remains known only as a small population confined to the upland montane forests of Taveuni. Research is urgently needed to enable us to draw up and implement a conservation management plan, until that is done, this remarkable and Fiji’ only endemic bat is very vulnerable to extinction.
The people of Taveuni play a key role in the sighting and conservation of this species. NatureFiij-MareqetiViti is drawing up a species recovery plan that will outline future conservation actions – with the communities of Taveuni – for our Fijian flying fox.

References

Flannery, T. F. 1995. Mammals of the South-West Pacific and Moluccan Islands. Australian Museum/ Reed Books, Chatswood

Helgen, K. M. 2005. Systematics of the Pacific Monkey-faced
Bats (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae) with a New Species
of Pteralopex and a new Fijian Genus. Systematics and Biodiversity 3: 433-453.

Hill, J. E. and W. N. Beckon. 1978. A New Species of Pteralopex Thomas, 1888 (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae) from the Fiji Islands. Bulletin of the British
Museum (Natural History), Zoology
34: 65-82.

Palmeirim, J. M., A. Champion, A. Naikatini, J. Niukula, M. Tuiwawa, M. Fisher, M. Yabaki – Goundar, S. Thorsteinsdottir, S. Qalovaki and T. Dunn. 2007. Distribution, Status and Conservation of the Bats of the Fiji Islands. Oryx 41(4): 509 – 519.

Front Page Photo:  Guy Bottroff, Jorge Kretzschmar