Bats in the Murray-Darling

Bats in the Murray-Darling

Rachel V. Blakey
PhD Candidate

July 2011 – July 2014

Project overview
The Murray-Darling Basin is among the world’s top ten most threatened river systems. It covers approximately 14% of Australia’s area and contains about 30,000 wetlands, 12 of which are internationally protected. Of the Murray-Darling fauna, bats represent around 60% of mammal diversity and are abundant within its freshwater ecosystems. Bat species not only depend on surface water within these ecosystems throughout their life cycles but are also likely to contribute to processes essential for maintaining the health of the wetlands. For example bats may provide an important ecosystem service to trees, particularly those experiencing water stress or isolated by clearing, by regulating the abundance of leaf-chewing insects.

By combining field surveys, automated call recognition and remotely derived data, my project will be the first attempt to determine the importance of river and wetland environments to bat communities at a basin-scale within the Murray-Darling. In addition, I will quantify the role of bats in regulating insect populations within River Red Gums and thus maintaining wetland health. Finally, I aim to experimentally test the impact of different environmental watering and ecological restoration scenarios on bat communities in order to determine how to best manage bat communities and maintain the ecosystem processes they support within the Murray-Darling Basin.

This project has 4 main objectives:
1. To determine the importance of wetland and river habitats for bat communities and their prey within floodplain ecosystems of the Murray-Darling basin
2. To determine the relationship between bats, birds, herbivorous insects and leaf loss in River Red Gums and to discover how these relationships change with changing flooding conditions
3. To determine the relationship between forest structure, hydrological variables and bat activity within a River Red Gum forest using site-based and remotely derived variables and to use these relationships to predict outcomes of multiple restoration scenarios
4. To determine how environmental flows influence bats:
a. At the community level (using bat and insect prey diversity and activity indices)
b. At the individual level (using foraging or roosting behaviour of a focal bat species)

Potential outcomes 
This project will be the first Murray-Darling basin-scale investigation of aerial insects and of terrestrial vertebrates, making significant progress in our understanding of animal communities and ecosystem processes within this high conservation priority area. The outcomes will allow natural resource and water managers within the various tiers of government to integrate bats, an often over-looked taxa, into their decision-making.

In preparation

Collaborators, partners and sponsors
NSW Department of Primary Industries
NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

Research Program: 
Aquatic Species Ecology
Research Themes: 
Rivers and Wetlands

News for this project


Bat team on the radio

Eastside FM hosts Rachel and Bradley on the Boiling Point science program to discuss bat research at CES.

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