A Heat Wave in Australia Killed 23,000 Spectacled Flying Foxes
By Jason Bittel
Weighing up to two pounds and with wingspans approaching five feet, spectacled flying foxes are among the largest bats in the world. Now imagine what it would be like if 23,000 of them fell out of the trees and onto, say, your car or backyard pool.
That's what happened last November on the northern coast of Australia when a record-setting heat wave pushed temperatures past 107 degrees Fahrenheit for days on end. The spectacled flying foxes, which are accustomed to shady forest understories, tried to ride out the wave by fanning their wings, panting, and spreading saliva across their bodies, but these cooling measures can combat only so much heat. In the end, tens of thousands of these fruit bats fell to the ground dead. Hundreds more wound up in rehabilitation facilities.
Wildlife volunteers removed thousands of bat carcasses from around Cairns, Queensland during a record-breaking heat wave.
"We have never seen die-offs in this species before," said David Westcott, coordinator of Australia's National Flying-Fox Monitoring Program. "Indeed, across the species' range, we have rarely, if ever, seen temperatures like this before."
Spectacled flying foxes — named for the yellow fur encircling their eyes — live in the forests of northeastern Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Since November, severe heat waves have continued to hit Australia, killing fish along with wild horses and camels and even cooking fruit as it grew on trees. A 2014 heat wave in Queensland killed 45,500 bats of various species, including black, gray-headed, and little red flying foxes. And while scientists have found evidence of 39 such die-offs on the continent going back as far as 1791, the vast majority of those, 35, have occurred since 1994.
Anytime you're talking about 23,000 animals falling dead, it's clear that the scale of the problem is serious. But the number of casualties becomes even more significant when dealing with already endangered species. Previous estimates put the global population of spectacled flying foxes at just 75,000. November's heat wave wiped out nearly a third of them.
Making matters worse, spectacled flying foxes have declined by 70 percent over the past 15 years, said Westcott, who is also a zoologist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Canberra. This prompted the government to change the species' conservation status from vulnerable to endangered under the country's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999, which is basically the Australian version of the Endangered Species Act.
The data used to reclassify the species, however, did not include the population's recent massive loss. So the flying fox's situation, Westcott said, could be even more tenuous than its "endangered" status suggests.
In addition to an increasingly warm climate, one of the biggest threats to spectacled fruit bats across Southeast Asia is urbanization and the conversion of forests to sugar plantations or pastureland for livestock. The animals rely on fruits, such as figs, and nectar from flowers, such as eucalyptus, to survive in the rainforests, swamps, and mangroves they call home. Deforestation obviously cuts into their food supply; disturbances in their native habitats also make it easier for invasive vegetation to creep in.
One such invasive plant is wild tobacco. The plant produces yellow berries that fruit bats will eat in a pinch, but the problem is that tobacco grows low to the ground. Flying foxes prefer life in the forest canopy, and for good reason. Foraging down low puts the bats in danger of picking up paralysis ticks, which, as their name suggests, carry a nasty toxin that can paralyze and sometimes kill bats and other animals. A 2013 study suggests these ticks affect females more than males. This is particularly bad news because flying foxes are already pretty slow at making babies.
Females don't usually reproduce until after their first year and can bear only one pup each year. As the threats pile up on spectacled flying foxes — climate, habitat change, lethal ticks — the species becomes less and less likely to rebound.
Westcott said conservation efforts should focus on maintaining adequate understory in flying fox camps, or roosts. And depending on how dry the conditions are, providing supplemental water when the temperature gets high might help as well.
The flying-foxes died in the trees or dropped to the ground due to fatal heat stress.
Researchers at Western Sydney University have also developed something called the Flying-Fox Heat Stress Forecaster, which monitors weather patterns for the types of extreme heat known to cut down flying foxes. The early-warning system gives rehab centers, landowners, and wildlife managers around 72 hours of notice before a die-off might occur. This could be enough time to put out water and other resources that could save some of the animals.
The recent die-off, of course, is just part of a much bigger and more intractable problem. Since 2005, Australia has experienced 9of its 10 hottest years on record. The continent is now warmer in the day, warmer at night, warmer in its interior, and warmer on its coasts. Since the 1950s, the number of days when there's risk of "extreme fire weather" has increased steadily. Dry areas are getting drier. Wet areas are getting wetter.
In short, Australia's climate is changing. Extreme heat events are just one of many symptoms. And spectacled flying foxes may become just one of many casualties.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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