Endangered ghost bats in the Pilbara eat more than 46 species of animals from small mammals, to birds, reptiles and amphibians, research led by The University of Western Australia has revealed.
The study, which also involved Curtin University and Perth Zoo, identified 32 prey species not previously recorded for ghost bats in Western Australia and 19 previously unreported prey species from other parts of Australia.
The ghost bat (Macroderma gigas), a flying mammal found in northern Australia, is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and also in WA, where there are less than 10,000 ghost bats left in the wild.
The decline in numbers has been attributed to environmental factors including climate change, habitat loss and competition for prey from introduced species.
Researcher Alba Arteaga, who completed the study at UWA, said the ghost bat is a difficult species to study in the wild without disturbing it.
“The study combined two non-invasive collection methods to determine their dietary range,” Ms Arteaga said. “The first method used prey food remains collected from disused mine sites and we also analysed the DNA of ghost bat faecal pellets.
“We discovered that the ghost bat diet in the Pilbara region consists primarily of small mammal and bird species, with a lesser contribution from reptiles – geckoes and skinks, and amphibians.”
Adjunct Professor Peter Mawson from the UWA School of Biological Sciences said the findings had important implications for conservation efforts and to increase understanding of the elusive mammal.
“The ghost bat is becoming increasingly difficult to collect data on, with its numbers diminishing and its adverse response to disturbance, meaning we have to be very careful not to disturb it when collecting data,” Professor Mawson said.
“Determining the prey species inventory of ghost bat in the Pilbara region will be very important in the long term conservation management of the animal and the viability of its population.”