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A New Research Project Will Explore How Extreme Heat Events Impact Indian Flying Foxes in Pakistan

Indian flying foxes enjoying native fruits near Sargodha, Punjab, Pakistan. Photo Source: RJ Shilx

Bat Conservation Pakistan is going to conduct a research on Indian flying foxes in Pakistan. This one year project aims to explore how extreme heat events are impacting Indian flying foxes (Pteropus medius) in Pakistan. This project will help in determining temperature thresholds that precipitate heat stress in Indian flying foxes (Pteropus medius) at the roost level. This project will explore how the presence and distance of different landscape variables influences heat stress.

We will also see how weather patterns impact the thermoregulatory behaviours of Indian flying foxes. At the end, Habitat Suitability Models for other roosting sites will be generated by using these studied variables. Lastly, we will conduct interviews of the local population to identify historic die offs and dietary ecology of Indian flying foxes in Pakistan.

There is a well-established relationship between climate change and the intensity and frequency of extreme heat events. It creates wildlife conservation challenges, especially for flying foxes, large fruit-eating bats in the genus Pteropus and related genera, due to their open-roosting behaviour and lower thermodynamic tolerance. Extreme heat events had resulted in mass die offs of flying foxes in many parts of the world. Notably, a heat wave on January 04, 2014 claimed 45,500 flying-foxes’ lives when the temperature passed a threshold of 42℃ in Australia.

Indian flying foxes. Photo Source: RJ Shilx

The Indian flying fox (Pteropus medius) population is declining throughout its geographic range. Moreover, extreme heat events and local extinction of flying foxes in the southern region of Pakistan seem to be related. Pakistan is the fifth-most severely affected country by climate change worldwide, with over 150 extreme weather events in the last decade. These extreme heat events have claimed the lives of hundreds of people and domestic animals, and they are expected to increase and become widespread in the central and northern region of Pakistan. Therefore, predicting potential places and times of elevated risk of heat-related die-offs for wildlife, especially flying foxes, is of great conservation value, by allowing timely mitigation plans in Pakistan.

Heat stressed bats exhibit a series of thermoregulatory behaviours (wing fanning, belly soaking, clustering, clumping, wrist licking) that bats use to mitigate the negative effects of heat through evaporative cooling. The onset and duration of these behaviours provide measures of physiological stress, which can modulate their fertility, metabolism, and immune function. We will record thermoregulatory behaviours and characterize flying foxes heat stress intensity using standardized scoring system.

Understanding the effect of landscape variables, weather patterns and availability of nutritional resources that might buffer the effects of extreme heat events on flying-foxes’ thermoregulation has the potential to inform timely mitigation strategies in both the short and long term. We will generate habitat suitability and heat stress models for other Pteropus medius roost sites by using these study variables.

Indian flying foxes enjoying native fruits near Sargodha, Punjab, Pakistan. Photo Source: RJ Shilx

Flying foxes can also be studied as a good bioindicator of heat stress for other wildlife that is more cryptic or occurs in smaller numbers, due to their lower thermodynamic tolerance and a well-defined thermoregulatory behavior. The generated database will provide one of the first and long-term roosts temperatures and thermoregulatory behaviour data which can be used for short- or long-term conservation action on identified heat stressed, vulnerable roosts in Pakistan.

Principle Investigator: Dr. Touseef Ahmed is a Ph.D. Scholar in Kingston Lab at Texas Tech University, USA. He is currently working on Extreme Heat Event-related bats’ die-offs and developing bats habitat suitability models to predict zoonotic disease spillovers in Pakistan. He is looking at bats’ population dynamics and community ecology. His interests lie at the nexus of conservation biology, disturbance ecology, disease ecology, and wildlife-human interactions. He has a keen interest in applying principles of disease ecology to understand how human disturbance can promote vulnerability to pathogen transmission between hosts and potential spillover events into other wildlife, livestock, and humans. His long-term goal is to understand how human manipulation of the environment can have detrimental effects on wildlife health and the prevalence and dynamics of zoonotic diseases in wildlife species.

Team Descriptions

  1. Dr. Tigga Kingston – She is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University, USA. She is also Co-Chair of the IUCN Bat Specialist Group and Global Union of Bat Diversity Networks (GBatNet).
  2. Dr. Arshad Javid–He is an Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Wildlife and Fishery, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pakistan. His research work focuses on Chiropteran biodiversity in tropical and arid-subtropical regions of Pakistan.
  3. Dr. Muhammad Naeem Awan – He is a well published ecologist and conservationist, currently working as a country coordinator of Earth Day Network, Pakistan.
  4. Dr Sajida Noureen–She is an Assistant Professor in Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, University of Haripur, Pakistan. She worked on different aspects of bats, including bat ecological studies, bat reproduction and roosting habitat.
  5. Dr. Ubaid ur Rahman Zia–He is a Lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pakistan. He is an infectious disease epidemiologist.
  6. Maria Shaukat–She is an Assistant Scientific Officer at Biological Production Division of National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad. She is working at rabies vaccine production lab of NIH.
  7. Dr. Furrukh Bashir – He is a scientific officer in Research and Development Division of the Pakistan Meteorological Department. His area of research work is climate change induced extreme heat events and their impacts on humans and biodiversity.
  8. Dr.Muhammad Farooq Tahir – He is working as Technical Adviser One Health for Health Security Partners, Washington DC, USA. He is actively involve in giving his inputs for Public Health Policy in Pakistan

Find More About This Project

https://www.rufford.org/projects/touseef-ahmed/effect-extreme-heat-indian-flying-foxes-pteropus-medius-pakistan/?fbclid=IwAR2rM37SKBFfkjiter7Y_L_vukzdgH1s5tkOfDczR6zYql59m1hbYOxU_HM

https://www.batcon.org/press/scholars-expand-research-capabilities-for-global-bat-conservation/?fbclid=IwAR16tB9-6kzq3ZOLQ9OmsI2vVwRH__PFqgYeg3snsn2ZdyYatjW5mvoTR0Q

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    Sharjeel says

    Awesome read. Highly recommend

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