Human-wildlife conflict is an expanding issue with the ever-growing urban footprint encroaching on wildlife habitats. Urban sprawl has reduced the size and number of roosting habitats and has led to increasing conflict with flying foxes and humans. The balancing act of management and conservation of flying foxes is very difficult due to the knowledge gap around roosting requirements and feeding ecology.
As a result of increasing conflict interactions, council is looking at long term solutions to try and encourage flying foxes to move into low-conflict areas, away from the urban landscape. This is no simple task, as it is not well understood why flying foxes choose their roost sites and discouraging them from certain areas merely shifts the conflict into other, potentially higher conflict areas, with no way to predict with 100% accuracy where they will move to. In most cases of dispersal, they actually re-establish in the same area within a short period of time.
In an attempt to combat this, council funded a research project by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to identify areas that are ecologically suitable for flying fox roosts, and from this, extrapolate the areas of highest potential conflict.
The importance of this research is both to highlight important features of roost sites to conserve or enhance when encouraging flying fox roosting in low-conflict areas, and to identify potential conflict areas for mitigation.
QUT investigated a number of habitat features across the 26 known flying fox roosts in the area, used from 2001-2014. All 26 sites recorded the presence of all three flying fox species encountered in this area. The research established the three most influential factors for roost sites were; distance to riparian areas, elevation, and distance to water, respectively. The importance of water for roost site selection has greatly impacted the current mapping, with the research showing a growing emphasis being placed of water availability, with food shortage experienced across their range.
The model predicted that 12% of the overall council land area is deemed to be suitable for flying fox roosts. Within that footprint, 27% of the suitable area was considered to be in high-conflict. The conflict area was established based on proximity to building, with low conflict defined as over 300-metres from a roost site. The areas identified to be suitable and be high conflict (less than 100m from buildings) occupied 3% (72.63km2) of the total land area.
The importance of this research is in its application in planning and management activities. For instance, with this updated mapping, advising urban planners and development assessors to promote building construction a set distance from water sources could be useful for mitigation. Similarly, by establishing the location of low or no-conflict areas, enhancement and preservation programs can be directed to encourage flying foxes into these roosts.
This research was presented to the 2018 Australasian Bat Conference, with the NSW government choosing to adopt this methodology to determine roost suitability across the entire state.
Council is leading the way in trying to understand why flying foxes choose to inhabit urban areas and explore ways to minimise impact of human amenity, so we can cohabitate within nature.
We will continue to build on this foundation and investigate the current gaps in this knowledge to best inform our management actions.