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Extreme mobility of the world’s largest flying mammals creates key challenges for management and conservation

Cite this dataset

Welbergen, Justin et al. (2020). Extreme mobility of the world’s largest flying mammals creates key challenges for management and conservation [Dataset]. Dryad.


Background: Effective conservation management of highly mobile species depends upon detailed knowledge of movements of individuals across their range; yet, data are rarely available at appropriate spatiotemporal scales. Flying-foxes (Pteropus spp.), are large bats that forage by night on floral resources and rest by day in arboreal roosts that may contain colonies of many thousands of individuals. They are the largest mammals capable of powered flight, and they are highly mobile, which makes them key seed and pollen dispersers in forest ecosystems. However, their mobility also facilitates transmission of zoonotic diseases and brings them in conflict with humans, and so require a precarious balancing of conservation and management concerns throughout their Old World range. Here we analyse the Australia-wide movements of 201 satellite-tracked individuals, providing unprecedented detail on the inter-roost movements of three flying-fox species: Pteropus alecto, P. poliocephalus, and P. scapulatus across jurisdictions over up to five years.

Results: Individuals were estimated to travel long distances among a network of 755 roosts, with P. alecto reaching more than 1,800 kilometers a year, P. poliocephalus up to 2,500 kilometers a year and P. scapulatus up to 6,000 kilometers a year, but with little uniformity among their directions of travel. This indicates that flying-fox populations are composed of extremely mobile individuals that move nomadically and at species-specific rates. Individuals of all three species exhibited very low fidelity to roosts, resulting in very high estimated colony turnover rates. This indicates that flying-fox roosts form nodes in a vast continental network of ‘staging posts’ through which highly mobile individuals travel far and wide across their species range. 

Conclusions: The extreme inter-roost mobility reported here demonstrates the extent of the ecological linkages that nomadic flying-foxes provide across Australia’s contemporary fragmented landscape, with profound implications for the ecosystem services and zoonotic dynamics of flying-fox populations. In addition, the extreme mobility of the species means that impacts from local management actions can readily reverberate across jurisdictions throughout the species ranges; therefore, local management actions need to be assessed with reference to actions elsewhere and hence require national coordination. These findings underscore the need for sound understanding of animal movement dynamics to support evidence-based, transboundary conservation and management policy, tailored to the unique movement ecologies of species.


ARGOS PTTs were fitted to 99 flying-foxes, n=49 males, 50 females.We managed data from deployed PTTs in a standardized format in Movebank ( Prior to analysis, we examined the datasets for inconsistencies, and fixes with ARGOS code Z, along with fixes with longitudes >140 or latitudes <0, were removed. We used daytime fixes (between 10 am and 4 pm) to assign animals to a “roost site” (as mainland Australian flying-foxes do not forage during the day). If high resolution (ARGOS location code 3) daytime fixes occurred within 3.5 km of a “known colony”, we assumed animals were roosting at that site. Where accurate daytime fixes were more than 3.5 km from a known roost location, we manually assigned animals to a new “roost site” located at the center of the cluster of fixes. If multiple tracked individuals roosted at the same location, this new roost site was confidently considered to be a previously unidentified ‘colony’ of flying-foxes. 

Data consists of 3 csv files of monthly directional movements, movements and distance between roost sites and seasonal directed movement.


Australian Research Council, Award: DP170104272

Australian Research Council, Award: DP110104186

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, Award: R01AI110964

United States Agency for International Development, Award: AID-OAA-A-14-00102