The migration of fruit bats

Icarus will help to elucidate the complex role of fruit bats in ecosystems

Many fruit bats are extremely mobile. On their nightly journey from their sleeping to eating locations, some cover over one hundred kilometres per night. They carry pollen and seeds over large distances and play a key role the pollination and proliferation of plants, and thus in the natural renewal of forests and in human nutrition. They are also increasingly mentioned in the context of disease although evidence for this is in most cases indirect via antibodies or DNA fragments. We contribute to a more holistic approach for the study of viruses in fruit bats by tracking their movement and ecology to find where contact with diseases occurs and understand the potential for transmission or spread of diseases in those places if any.

To understand their role as keystone ecosystem providers, detailed knowledge of their movement behavior is important. Researchers also know little about the impact of hunting and habitat destruction on their population numbers.

Straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) are the most common fruit bats in Africa and form large seasonal aggregations. Yet little is known about the connectivity of these colonies, what predicts their presence in different locations across Africa, or what role they have on ecosystems - all of these can only be determined by following individuals.

We will attach Icarus tags to Eidolon helvum to monitor their migration across Africa. The tags regularly communicate with and upload data to the International Space Station (ISS), allowing high-resolution GPS tracking of animals in remote areas.

Animals: Fruit bats

Location: West Africa

Contact: Dina Dechmann and Martin Wikelski, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Konstanz, Germany

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