During their researchwhich involved careful study of the skulls and skins of related flying fox species in 8 different museums on 3 different continentsthe researchers straightened out a second point of confusion in the scientific literature regarding these animals. They demonstrated that flying foxes from the nearby islands of Chuuk Lagoon, long regarded as the separate species Pteropus insularis, are best regarded as a subspecies of Pteropus pelagicus. This finding shows that the Mortlock flying fox has a wider geographic distribution than previously realized.
New fieldwork on the Mortlock Islands revealed more than name changes. The article describes the first study of the behavior, diet and conservation status of this flying fox, finding that the Mortlock Islands support a small population of 900 to 1,200 bats scattered across a land surface of only 4.6 square miles. Legal rules have brought better protection to the species, which was once heavily hunted and exported for food.
But the future of the species remains uncertain, Helgen points out. In their study of Mortlock Islands geography, the researchers learned none of the islands are more than a few meters high. Rising sea levels, generated by climate change, pose a serious threat to the flying foxes' habitat and its food resources through flooding, erosion and contamination of freshwater supplies.
"When we think of climate change having an impact on a mammal species, what comes to mind most immediately is an Arctic animal like the polar bear, which depends on sea ice to survive," Helgen
|Contact: Kelly Carnes|