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Real-time forecaster to monitor flying foxes

People can seek shelter and protection in the comforts of their own homes while the Australian wildlife, living outside without airconditioning, is bearing the brunt of the heat.

Wildlife often affected by heatwaves includes koalas, zebra finches, bumblebees and butterflies, among others. However, their heat-related deaths are generally difficult to document.

On the contrary, flying foxes live in colonies, thereby making it comparatively easier to determine the impacts of extreme heat events on the species as a whole.

These animals die from hyperthermia at temperatures beyond 42°C.

One of the most dramatic animal die-offs ever recorded in Australia was at least 45,500 flying foxes dead in 52 camps, on just one extremely hot day in southeast Queensland, in January 2014.

This left 1000 flying foxes orphaned.

While flying foxes are often portrayed as noisy pests, they are protected native species.

Any decline in their populations has significant environmental ramifications as they spread seeds and pollinate native trees.

According to a recent report, a Flying Fox Heat-Stress Forecaster has been developed to aid wildlife carers, land managers and public health officials in coping with such events.

Several groups have worked together in order to produce this forecaster.

These are researchers from the Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Advanced weather mapping technology is being used by the forecaster in order to predict which flying fox camps are most likely to experience mortality up to 72 hours into the future.

Outputs include up-to-date maps of affected areas, hourly temperature profiles of affected camps, and a list that prioritises camps by date, maximum temperature, and the number of flying foxes present.

This information can help stakeholders direct their attention towards where and when flying fox die-offs are most likely to occur.

Dr Justin Welbergen, who is from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, has long been at the forefront of research and awareness-raising around the impacts of extreme heat on flying foxes.

He explained that these extreme heat events are a very serious and ongoing issue for the conservation and management of flying foxes.

This issue is set to escalate under climate change, which does not bode well for flying foxes and other wildlife in Australia and beyond.

Forecasted air temperature data from the Bureau of Meteorology’s Australian Regional domain of the Australian Community Climate and Earth-System Simulator (ACCESS-R) Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) system is used for the simulations.

Meanwhile, information on flying fox camp locations and occupancy are obtained from the National Flying-Fox Monitoring Program.


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