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Keywords:

  • Chiroptera;
  • migration;
  • seed dispersal;
  • frugivory;
  • Africa;
  • Zambia;
  • Congo;
  • satellite telemetry

Abstract

Despite long-standing awareness of the potentially important ecological role of fruit bats, we know little about the ecology of the vast majority of species. Here we report the results of a pilot satellite tracking study aimed at establishing the scale of movement of the straw-coloured fruit bat Eidolon helvum. This was the first ever attempt to track African fruit bats using satellite telemetry. We tagged four bats with solar-charged 12 g satellite transmitters at Kasanka National Park in December 2005 and obtained a combined total of 104 different location fixes over a 149-day period. Before migrating, bats foraged as far as 59 km from the roost in a single evening; by contrast, one migrating individual moved 370 km in one night. Bats travelled an average 29 km day−1 over the period of study, with bats that appeared to be migrating moving north-west from Kasanka at an average 90 km day−1. The greatest cumulative distance travelled by a single bat was 2518 km in 149 days. The results show conclusively that the straw-coloured fruit bat E. helvum is capable of migrating thousands of kilometres across central Africa on an annual basis, implying that the fruit pulse in northern Zambia is richer than anything on offer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the same time of the year.