The Flying Fox in the Royal Botanical Gardens: Urban Ecology in Two Australian Cities

Amy Whitesides (MLA I)

Project Overview

The Grey-Headed Flying Fox is a large fruit-eating bat endemic to the coastal forests of Southeastern Australia. As a result of urbanization and habitat fragmentation the population has declined from millions at the turn of the century to less than 300,000 today, and is now considered under threat of extinction. Urban environments provide the bats with year-round forage and roost sites. As a result, in the 1980s a colony of nearly 30,000 bats moved in to the Royal Botanic Gardens in both Sydney and Melbourne. The bat colonies cause significant damage to heritage trees within the gardens creating a management concern for garden officials whose mission it is to preserve those trees. The Flying Fox in The Royal Botanic Garden is a case study of the growing problem of urban adapted species that are often considered both threatened species and urban pests.

Project Information

As an independent research project, this study of the bats in the botanic gardens of Australia’s Southeastern cities was intended as a case study through which I might gain deeper understanding of the complexity of the impact that urbanization has on ecological systems and the challenges that arise when these systems begin to adapt to and intertwine themselves with the urban environment. Urban ecology in this case was seen as both a desired and an undesirable condition that warrants more in-depth analysis and critical engagement than is often seen in projects undertaken in the field of design. Too often design projects paint ecology in to the urban environment without concern for or understanding of the new relationships that would arise from the coexistence of human and non-human in the urban condition. Increasingly, cities around the world are confronting this at times conflicting reality, making urban-adapted wildlife and its management an issue likely to be of great concern for city leaders in years to come.

The ambition of the project was to visit the sites of these urban bat colonies, to understand how and why they utilize the city, and to gain understanding of the various positions held by Sydney and Melbourne residents regarding the bats’ presence within the city. The project consisted of visits to both Sydney and Melbourne Botanic Gardens as well as to the Yarra Bend State Park, the site of the relocated colony in Melbourne, to each of nearly a dozen urban bat colonies within the Sydney Metro area, many of which could potentially be a site of relocation for the bats currenlty residing in the Sydney Gardens, and lastly, to the Wingham Brush Preserve, a small patch of native rainforest North of Sydney. Wingham Brush Preserve hosts a population of nearly 100,000 bats within a patch of rainforest less than a half kilometer square. Population pressures faced by the bats in their native habitat were evident here and gave further insight into the movement of bats into the city.

As reference, a number of excellent papers and government documents on Flying Fox biology, foraging behavior and conservation status were utilized to begin to understand the reasons for the bats’ presence within the urban environment. Please see the project presentation link for a bibliography and more in-depth description of the issues pertaining to the Grey-Headed Flying Fox.

I would like to thank the staff at the Sydney and Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens and give special thanks to Rod Ingham from the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens and Yarra River Keepers as well as John Martin from the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens for their generosity in giving their time to provide me with access to and information regarding the history and current status of the urban colonies of the Grey-Headed Flying Fox.

Contact Information

whitesides.amy@gmail.com