A Single Heat Wave Killed One Third of Spectacled Fruit Bats in Australia
Eleanor Hildebrandt. Popular Mechanics•January 18, 2019
Before a heat wave in Australia last November, the country was home to an estimated 75,000 spectacled fruit bats (also known as the spectacled flying fox). The bats reside mostly in the northeast state of Queensland.
A heatwave hit the region between November 24-30, 2018. On the hottest days, Nov. 26 and 27, temperatures were above 42°C (about 107°F), and the effect on the fruit bats was dramatic: At the time, locals reported seeing bats fall out of trees en masse.
Wildlife rescuers gathered the bodies and attempted to save still-surviving bats that were out in the open. Researchers at Western Sydney University finalized their estimates on the mass deaths just last week, saying that around 23,000 had died.
About 10,000 black flying foxes, another bat species, died during the same two-day period.
In Australia, spring lasts from September-November, and summer from December to February. Weather in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, typically tops out at about 28°C (82°F) in November. The Australian Bureau of Land Management noted that 2018 was the 5th-hottest year on record for Queensland.
In an interview with BBC news, Dr. Justin Welbergen, the ecologist who led the count, called the fruit bats “the canary in the coal mine for climate change.” Bats are no more susceptible to extreme heat than other animals; but because they tend to live in closer proximity to human settlements than other wild creatures, a deadly event like this is more obvious to humans.
“It is clear from the present data that these [heat] events are having a very serious impact on the species,” Welbergen told the BBC. “And it’s clear from climate change projections that this is set to escalate in the future.”
The bats were not the only casualty of last year’s heat wave. Cairns, a coastal Queensland city, reached 42.6°C, a record temperature. (The previous high, 37.2°C, was set in 1900.) Scientists predicted that this temperature would precipitate a coral die-off in the Great Barrier Reef later this year.
The heat and its side effects are unlikely to subside anytime soon. Australia is currently in the midst of yet another heat wave. The town of Noona in New South Wales recorded a night-time temperature of 35.9°C (96.62°F) last night, Jan. 17-the highest minimum temperature ever recorded anywhere in Australia.
Categories: Pestilence Update