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Jo Towsey awarded Grant from the Wildlife Preservation Society

Jo Towsey was recently awarded a $1000 University student grant from the Wildlife Preservation Scociety of Australia for her work on the ecology and management of flying foxes in urbanised southeast Queensland.

Flying foxes are large bats that roost communally in camps during the day then spread out at night to forage in vegetation in surrounding areas. While foraging they play an essential role ecologically by dispersing and pollinating forest trees. Despite their ecological significance, populations of some Australian flying foxes are declining as a result of factors such as habitat loss, persecution by humans and poor management. Continuing declines in flying fox numbers will likely have significant ramifications for many of Australia’s native forest ecosystems.

In recent years, flying foxes have been coming into increasingly closer contact with people due to existing daytime camps becoming enveloped by urban sprawl, and as a result of flying foxes shifting into urban areas possibly in order to access more reliable food sources. Our towns and cities can support large numbers of these animals, and this close proximity to people can lead to human-wildlife conflict situations. This conflict puts managers of flying foxes in a difficult position; they need to conserve populations of flying foxes but also need to manage the negative consequences. This presents a really interesting challenge for conservation, and her PhD is focused around (i) understanding how and why the animals are distributed across urban environments in the way that they are, and (ii) how we can manage Australia’s urban flying fox populations to make sure we conserve them, but also minimise the human-wildlife conflict.

Jo’s research is being conducted in south-east Queensland, a region where many flying fox camps have split up or changed location over the past few years. She wants to find out why these changes are occurring and whether they are temporary or permanent. To answer these questions she is currently measuring the amount of foraging resources available for flying foxes in Brisbane, and working out how the bats are spreading out across the urban environment when they leave their camps in the evenings. Her ultimate goal is to find out how we can manage urban vegetation into the future in order to ensure both adequate supply for the maintenance of urban flying fox populations and thus their ecosystem services, such as pollination and seed dispersal, and to help ameliorate human-flying fox conflicts.

She would like to thank the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia for providing her with this grant money which will contribute greatly towards the field work component of my research.