The secret life of the Fiji blossom bat, revealed

The secret life of the Fiji blossom bat, revealed

A world first discovery

A study on the relationship between the Fiji blossom bat and the Fiji forest native plant, Kuluva made a world first discovery of a new pollination system called chiropteropisteusis (bat reliant).

“We discovered that the Kuluva flowers never opened on their own, and instead were being pulled off by blossom bats that were after the sugar-rich nectar inside,” says University of South Australia’s Associate Professor S. ‘Topa’ Petit.

“Kuluva flowers have only one chance of being pollinated. Each is mature and receptive for one night only. But because the petals of kuluva flowers are permanently closed, if their corolla is not removed, the flower will die without reproducing.”

Professor S. ‘Topa’ Petit
Mature Dillenia biflora (Kuluva) flower. The corolla has been removed by hand to expose the pollen-filled anthers. The Fiji blossom bat lands on the leaves, removes the corolla and licks the nectar, covering its nose with pollen. This pollen on the bat is then transported to other flowers of the same species, contributing to the process of pollination and the production of fruits containing seeds. Photo and text: Assoc. Prof. S. ‘Topa’ Petit.

Bats – a keystone species

“A keystone species is an organism that “holds a system together“. Before this study, we knew that bats were important. Furthermore, we knew that bats had a mutualistic relationship Fiji’s native forest trees. However, we could only speculate and infer the role that they play. Now, as we learn about the intimacy of the relationship between the Kuluva and the Fiji blossom bat, one cannot help but wonder if the Kuluva could become extinct if we do not take care of the Fiji blossom bat and its habitat.”

“As the world grapples with the loss of pollinators and the threat of this loss to our food systems, forest regeneration, water cycle and nutrient cycle, this type of ground-breaking discovery shows little we know of species in our own backyard. The solution is right here. We need to look after our bats. They maintain our unique forest ecosystems and the free ecosystem services that we receive. We need research like this collaboration between the University of the South Pacific, the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide, Kangaroo Island Research Station and NatureFiji-MareqetiViti to improve our knowledge of Fiji’s biodiversity. “, Nunia Thomas-Moko, Director NatureFiji-MareqetiViti.

A threatened species

It is no surprise that the Fiji blossom bat (Notopteris macdonaldi) and the Kuluva plant (Dillenia biflora) are both restricted to Fiji and Vanuatu. They are not found anywhere else in the world – because they need each other. Once widespread in Fiji the Fiji blossom bat has disappeared from much of its original habitat in Fiji due to cave disturbance. Consequently, it is now listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Fiji blossom bat
The Fiji blossom bat has been on NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s Endangered Species Compendium since 2008, needing urgent research and conservation action. Photo: Nunia Thomas-Moko

Inspiring and aspiring Fijian bat ecologists

In 2008, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti approached Dr. Sophie Petiti (fondly known as Topa) and her student (then) Dr. Annette Scanlon to search for the endemic and Critically Endangered Beka Mirimiri (Fiji Flying Fox) on Taveuni in 2009. With guidance from Dr. Dick Watling and Dr Jorge Kretzschmar, Annette captured and released a pregnant female at Des vouex peak in 2009.

Subsequently, former NFMV staff member, Siteri Tikoca is pursuing a PhD on the Endangered Fiji free-tailed bat at the University of Adelaide.

NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, the National Trust of Fiji and Bat Conservation International invited other organisations and government departments to establish the Fiji Bat Conservation Initiative. Budding bat ecologist, Semaema Vakaciriwaqa will develop a Bat Conservation Strategy for Fiji under the guidance of the Bat Conservation Initiative.

Topa has written a children’s story book: Vakaruru and the Bananas to highlight the importance of Fiji’s bats to our forests.

This exciting scientific adventure in the heart of the Fijian rainforest will be presented by Zoom at 12:00 Adelaide time (1:30PM Fiji time) on Friday 11 March.

Upon Topa’s request, dress Fijian for DRESS FIJIAN DAY!

Learn more

The article on this discovery can be found here:

University of Adelaide press release:

The Kangaroo Island Research Station publications page also has a link to a press release and a video.

To learn more about NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s Fiji Bat Program, contact us: [email protected].