Batty Friendly Planting

By Olivia Whybird

When planting native trees, the end result is not just plants but an ecosystem, habitat that animals can use. This is important for many reasons, for example

- Like plants, the animals of Australia's forests are special and,

- Animals can be important in maintaining plant communities.

Why Bats?

Bats are important, as they are a very diverse group - 32 species occur in the wet tropics. In this area that makes them about as diverse as the marsupials. There are two distinct groups of bats, the 'Mega bats' (large) and the 'Micro bats' (small). The Mega bats eat fruit, nectar and leaves and roost in the branches and leaves of trees. They are known to us, as the Flying foxes and blossom bats. The majority of Micro bats are insects eaters, but some eat small animals e.g. birds, frogs and rodents (Ghost Bat) and others skim fish from the water's surface (Large-footed Myotis).

The Mega bats maintain plant communities by pollinating flowers especially the blossom bats. Some plants can only be pollinated by bats which means if they are absent from areas, no further generations of these plants can be born are they will die out. Bats also disperse seeds, small seeds in their droppings, and flying foxes will often carry fruit containing seeds in their mouths while flying. This will increase the diversity of plants in re-vegetation projects.

The micro bats are a very important predator of night insects, reducing the number of insects in an area therefore reducing the insect damage to plants and increasing human comfort. An overseas species has been recording to eat twice its body weight a night. This is likely to be about the same for many Australian species. Although most bats in North Qld weigh only 4 to 13 grams. I'm sure you will agree that 8 to 26 grams of mosquitoes per bat is a lot less mosquitoes, and they don't have side effects like chemical repellents or use electricity like zappers.

How Can We Help - Planting

Bats can get caught on barbwire fences. This occurs when they are low to the ground. The entanglement of bats and other animals eg gliders, can be reduced by replacing the top strand of the fence with plain wire. This is especially important around water bodies eg dam and creeks, as bats come close to the ground to drink. Many bats also like to fly close to vegetation, so when they encounter a cleared paddock they will fly close to the ground. This means that bats may be caught on fences in the open particularly those that run across a slope, and are between patches of vegetation.

Like other animals some bats will not cross cleared land so vegetation corridors will benefit them greatly. Bats can also be sensitive to insecticides and other chemicals so beware of using spray on fruit - the insects are not the only things affected.

We can plant trees with fruit and flowers that are eaten by Flying foxes - fleshy, juicy fruits eg large fruited Figs, Quandongs, Tarzali silkwood. They will of course also eat introduced fruit eg pawpaw and mango. Blossom bats eat very small fruits but specialise in flowers eg Syzygium (especially Bumpy satin ash) Freycinetia (Climbing pandanus), Callistemon and will feed on the flowers of introduced bananas.

Bat Shelters

Bat shelters assist micro bats to utilise an area and this is important in re-vegetation as the trees are young and do not contain hollows. These homes can be made in several ways

Any sort of weather proof box with a small entry and at least one wall that is rough enough for them to grip with their feet (eg carpet/hessian hung inside). A deluxe house design can be found in Pat Comben's book on animal homes. Beware not to damage trees when hanging box - protect with rubber hose if using wire or use ladies stockings.

Replacing native forests is one of the best ways to assist bat conservation, and I have listed a few ideas on how to make those plantings ideal for both bats and other fruit/ flower eating animals and those that roost in hollows.

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