Tammy Mildenstein is an assistant professor of biology at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. She teaches courses in biology, including Ecology, Environmental Biology, Conservation Biology, and Organismal Biology. Tammy studies threatened flying foxes in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Most recently, she has taken students to Myanmar to study flying fox conservation. Her local research with students focuses on monarch butterfly conservation and involves prairie restoration projects. Mildenstien has a Ph.D. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana, Missoula.
Fruit bats, known as flying foxes due to their long noses and big ears, are vital to keeping forests healthy, pollinating flowering trees and dispersing seeds of native plants. They are found roosting in the tall canopies of the forests of Southeast Asia.
Flying foxes are important ecologically and in need of conservation. Over 90% of the populations have been lost in just a few decades. These animals are valued by hunters as a food source, making their conservation important to local communities. Threats to these species include habitat loss, global climate change, roost site disturbance, and illegal hunting.
Over the last 20 years, my research team and I have been working to better understand these bats by studying every aspect of their ecology. Undergraduate students are part of many aspects of this research. We’ve studied everything from their large habitat requirements, which are defined by nightly flights of about 50 kilometers throughout the forests in search of food, down to things as small as the DNA in their feces, which tells us whether they mate with nearby populations.
There are essentially no data on population trends for Old World fruit bats. We don’t know about the decline or growth of the populations for most of the 190 species. Those are key metrics most commonly used to determine how threatened a species is. Until population data are available, we should use population densities as a relative measure of how the species are doing. That means looking at how many bats are living within a specific area instead of waiting for long-term monitoring data to detect population trends.
Our research has led us to important information that supports the conservation of these endangered species, and we will continue to study them as long as they continue to decline.