Taxonomy, distribution, and natural history of flying foxes (Chiroptera, Pteropodidae) in the Mortlock Islands and Chuuk State, Caroline Islands
OPEN ZooKeys | 7 Nov 2013
DW Buden, KM Helgen and GJ Wiles
The taxonomy, biology, and population status of flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) remain little investigated in the Caroline Islands, Micronesia, where multiple endemic taxa occur. Our study evaluated the taxonomic relationships between the flying foxes of the Mortlock Islands (a subgroup of the Carolines) and two closely related taxa from elsewhere in the region, and involved the first ever field study of the Mortlock population. Through a review of historical literature, the name Pteropus pelagicus Kittlitz, 1836 is resurrected to replace the prevailing but younger name Pteropus phaeocephalus Thomas, 1882 for the flying fox of the Mortlocks. On the basis of cranial and external morphological comparisons, Pteropus pelagicus is united taxonomically with Pteropus insularis “Hombron and Jacquinot, 1842” (with authority herein emended to Jacquinot and Pucheran 1853), and the two formerly monotypic species are now treated as subspecies - Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus in the Mortlocks, and Pteropus phaeocephalus insularis on the islands of Chuuk Lagoon and Namonuito Atoll. The closest relative of Pteropus pelagicus is Pteropus tokudae Tate, 1934, of Guam, which is best regarded as a distinct species. Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus is the only known resident bat in the Mortlock Islands, a chain of more than 100 atoll islands with a total land area of <12 km(2). Based on field observations in 2004, we estimated a population size of 925-1,200 bats, most of which occurred on Satawan and Lukunor Atolls, the two largest and southernmost atolls in the chain. Bats were absent on Nama Island and possibly extirpated from Losap Atoll in the northern Mortlocks. Resident Mortlockese indicated bats were more common in the past, but that the population generally has remained stable in recent years. Most Pteropus phaeocephalus pelagicus roosted alone or in groups of 5-10 bats; a roost of 27 was the largest noted. Diet is comprised of at least eight plant species, with breadfruit (Artocarpus spp.) being a preferred food. Records of females with young (April, July) and pregnant females (July) suggest an extended breeding season. Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus appears most threatened by the prospect of sea level rise associated with global climate change, which has the potential to submerge or reduce the size of atolls in the Mortlocks. Occasional severe typhoons probably temporarily reduce populations on heavily damaged atolls, but hunting and ongoing habitat loss are not current problems for the subspecies.
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