Bats, caves, wombats and owls – an inspiring week away in NSW!

I recently attended the Australasian Bat Society (ABS) biennial conference – and what an inspiring and fascinating week it was!

The ABS aims to promote the conservation of bats in the Australasian region, by supporting research and engaging with the community. About 150 bat experts, carers, and enthusiasts travelled to western Sydney for the 3 day event, which was preceded by a half-day flying-fox public forum and followed by an overnight field trip to Jenolan Caves. The conference opened with a welcome to Country by a local Indigenous elder who also told the story of why bats hang upside down – a definite highlight.

ABS conference book

With over 190 species of bats in the Australasian region (around 80 of which occur within Australia) the talks were incredibly diverse in both content and discipline, ranging from technical discussions of DNA sequencing to resolve taxonomic issues, to a social science study on public perceptions of urban flying fox camps. I can’t possibly mention every interesting presentation but I can definitely say I learnt something from every single one (there were 63!). Just one that sticks out in my mind was learning about the New Zealand species in which males sing to attract females!

After three and a half days of talks, we headed out to Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains which have been called Australia’s most spectacular caves. Seventeen species of bats have been recorded in this area, including the cave-dwelling Eastern Bent-wing Bat and Eastern Horseshoe Bat. In the evening we set up harp traps and also hoped to spot platypus and brush-tailed rock wallabies around dusk. Alas, my group did not see these elusive species, but we did hear a Sooty Owl (have a listen to its screech here) and a large wombat – we also caught a Little Forest Bat and an Eastern Bent-wing Bat.

Large Forest Bat (Vespadelus darlingtoni) on the left and Little Forest Bat (Vespadelus vulturnus) on the right (Photo: Emmi van Harten)

Large Forest Bat (Vespadelus darlingtoni) on the left and Little Forest Bat (V. vulturnus) on the right (Photo: Emmi van Harten)

Often out of sight, out of mind, bats play important roles in the Australian landscape in pest insect predation and seed dispersal. The ABS website is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about these intriguing creatures (along with the society’s Facebook and Twitter).

Thanks for a great event, ABS!

Rose Thompson