Researchers study population trends of flying foxes

Professor of Biology Tammy Mildenstein has studied fruit-eating megabats, or  flying foxes, for twenty years.

Over the summer she received help from one of her students—Rebecca Ritter ’18.

They’re concerned about their dwindling numbers of the bats.

“In Myanmar, in particular, there hasn’t been a lot of research, because it has been a fairly closed country,” Mildenstein said. “There are bat species that we think are really unique to Myanmar, which are facing pressures such as loss of forests, global climate change, and direct human pressures for consumption.”

Professor Mildenstein took a small group of students to Southeast Asia to collect bat fecal samples during a class in the spring of 2017.

“We went to Myeik, Bagan, Shwesedi, and Mt. Popa,” Ritter said. “We collected about 50 samples from the roost sites.”

Students looked at the samples to learn about the bats’ diet.

For the Cornell Summer Research Institute (CSRI), Ritter used the same samples for DNA testing to determine the species of the bats at the roost sites. Very few of the 190 species of fruit bats have data on population trends on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, so their endangered status is unknown.

“Hypomelanus and Giganteus are both on the Red List, so if you are able to identify those roosts as Hypomelanus and Giganteus, then that can add to their count in the wild,” Ritter said. “It’s important to have a semi-accurate idea of how many there are and where they’re located in the wild.”

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