Changing the future trajectory of the Southern Bent-winged Bat

Last month the National Threatened Species Recovery Hub released lists of the top 20 Australian birds and mammals they consider most likely to go extinct in the next 20 years. According to the research, there is a high chance that ten bird and seven mammal species will disappear in this time – unless we do something different and change the current trajectory for these species.

This is where we all come in, because sitting at number 17 on the mammal list is the Southern Bent-winged Bat (Miniopterus orianae bassanii), one of the many bat species found in our region. The Southern Bent-winged Bat is critically endangered, and roosts in caves throughout the Limestone Coast region of SA and western Victoria. The most important maternity colony for this subspecies is at Bat Cave within the Naracoorte Caves National Park.

As mentioned previously, NGT is currently revising the South East Regional Action Plan for the Southern Bent-winged Bat which will guide management of the taxon for the next decade. Back in January we held a workshop at the Naracoorte Caves where, together with experts on the subspecies, we worked to record all the research and management actions which have taken place since 2009 (when the previous Regional Action Plan was written), and set priorities for the next plan.

Southern Bent-winged Bat workshop, January 2018

Southern Bent-winged Bat workshop, January 2018

A draft of the plan was sent to various stakeholders (including individuals from government agencies and Naracoorte Caves, bat experts, caving representatives) for comments in March, and a great number of responses were received. I am now in the final stages of incorporating the feedback, and the fully updated Regional Action Plan will be finalised next month. This work forms part of the Restoring Under-represented Ecological Communities project for Natural Resources South East.

The recent release of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub’s lists highlights the need for having a solid plan in place for tackling threatened species recovery. As the name suggests, the updated Southern Bent-winged Bat South East Regional Action Plan will contain a comprehensive list of the actions which we think are necessary to ensure the survival of this subspecies into the future.

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Threatened species management is an area which requires collaboration between a wide range of stakeholders, and in this case government departments, universities, private landholders including the forestry industry, cavers, Indigenous groups, and other community groups will all have roles to play. Disturbance of roost sites is a key threat for the Southern Bent-winged Bat, and so it is recommended that people do not enter caves where bats are roosting, especially during winter when the bats are in torpor. Research has found that the Southern Bent-winged Bat is a sensitive creature, showing heightened levels of activity (using up their fat reserves) for up to a couple of weeks after a disturbance event!

Protecting and enhancing remaining habitat including caves, wetlands, and remnant vegetation will be critical for the Southern Bent-winged Bat; to see how bat friendly your property is have a look at this post and brochure produced by NGT a couple of years back. All of our native fauna, including bats, benefit from our native flora – perhaps you’d like to get involved in some local tree planting events this winter?

Southern Bent-winged Bat Photo: Steve Bourne and Terry Reardon

Southern Bent-winged Bat (Photo: Steve Bourne and Terry Reardon)

A major threat facing the Southern Bent-winged Bat is White-nose Syndrome which has had a devastating impact on a number of species in North America over the past 12 years since it was first identified in New York. White-nose Syndrome causes evaporative water loss and increases the frequency of arousal from hibernation. Around 6 million bats have died as a result of the disease. The fungus which causes White-nose Syndrome is not yet present in Australia, but a comprehensive risk assessment in 2016 found that it was almost certain to arrive here within the next decade. It is thought that human traffic played a part in spreading the fungus to and in the United States, and as such strict hygiene protocols are essential to prevent, or at least slow, further spread of the disease. There are a lot of unknowns regarding the impact White-nose Syndrome might have in Australia, but if (when) it arrives, the Southern Bent-winged Bat will be the most impacted species.

Australia has a poor track record regarding extinctions. In order to have a chance at preventing the extinction of the Southern Bent-winged Bat, and other species on the Threatened Species Recovery Hub’s new lists, urgent action is required.

Let’s hope we can look back in 2038 and see how we changed the trajectory for these species.

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Another local species which made it onto the lists is the Orange-bellied Parrot. Check out Nicole’s post to see how you can get involved with OBP monitoring in south-west Victoria this winter.

Rose Thompson
Rose Thompson
rose.thompson@natureglenelg.org.au