Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Flying foxes, or fruit bats, are the largest bats in the world, but new research in Australia suggests they aren't slowed by their size.
According to a study published Friday in the journal BMC Biology, the extraordinary mobility of flying foxes makes management and conservation efforts especially difficult.
Fruit bats move constantly among a constellation of roosts. Ecologists claim this movement helps flying foxes disperse seeds and pollen throughout Australia's fragmented forest ecosystems.
But their varied movements also enable the spread of disease and increase the odds of conflict with humans.
To better understand the challenges presented by the mobility of flying foxes, researchers used satellite tracking technology to monitor the movements of several dozen specimens, comprising three different species -- gray-headed, black and little red flying foxes.
The analysis showed that the more than 200 tracked bats utilized a total of 755 roosts, more than half of which were unknown to wildlife managers. All three species visited one roost site inside the Hervey Bay Botanic Gardens in Queensland.
"Our findings indicate that flying-fox roosts are better viewed as parts of a network of 'staging posts' that provide temporary shelters to extremely mobile individuals that wander nomadically throughout much of eastern Australia," lead study author Justin Welbergen said in a news release.
"This contrasts with the conventional portrayal of a roost as being home to a resident population made up of the same individuals," said Welbergen, an associate professor of animal ecology at Western Sydney University.
Previous studies have detailed the ability of flying foxes to travel long distances, but until now, scientists failed to appreciate the complexity of their bats' roosting patterns.
"The vast scale of the movements among roosts shown by our study indicates that nomadism is in fact a fundamental aspect of flying-fox biology," Welbergen said. "This necessitates a re-evaluation of how these fascinating animals are managed and conserved."
Researchers hope their work will be incorporated into future conservation and management plans for flying fox species.