Real-time tools to predict flying-fox die-offs from January’s heatwave

Forecast Heatwave in flying fox regions

As people are seeking shelter in airconditioned rooms from Australia’s most severe heatwave conditions since the “angry summer (opens in a new window)” of 2012-13, wildlife is outside bearing the brunt of the heat. This is brought into stark relief by flying-foxes that die from hyperthermia at temperatures beyond 42°C, sometimes at biblical scales (opens in a new window).

To aid wildlife carers, land managers and public health officials in coping with such events, researchers from Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, CSIRO, and the Bureau of Meteorology have developed a Flying Fox Heat-Stress Forecaster (opens in a new window).

The forecaster uses advanced weather mapping technology 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.

At present predictions indicate that at least 37 flying camps across Victoria and NSW are set to experience dangerously high temperatures over the next three days.

Dr Justin Welbergen 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.

“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”, Dr Welbergen says.

People who find stressed or dead flying-foxes and other wildlife are encouraged not to handle them and immediately phone WIRES on 1300 094 737 instead.


17 January 2019

David Thompson, Research Media Officer