Past and Present…
Think of a world without your favorite fruits and surrounded with mosquitoes. Yes, that will happen if we lose our bats. Bats in the country are highly diverse in terms of the species-area relationship with around 60 species. They utilize a variety of habitats, especially in forest and caves.
However, many areas remain understudied. The taxonomy and conservation of cave-dwelling bats in south-central Mindanao remains undocumented and untackled until 2012. The first comprehensive expedition has resulted to a significantly high biodiversity of cave bats relative to other caves sites in the Philippines. Despite this noteworthy result, continuous anthropogenic activities imperils bat population in caves. Hunting and unregulated tourism and cave entry were among the pressures to cave and bats. Community discussion revealed that bats were hunted for food and trade in local households. Hunters prefer to harvest large roosting bat species such Rousettus amplexicaudatus, Eonycteris spelaea and Hipposideros diadema due to their hyperabundant populations. Their meat is then sold at a very low-price compared to known price in other areas (around 1-2 US$ per piece).
Unregulated tourism in caves contributes to the pressures in cave sites. The presence of extensive vandalism in walls, damaged structures, and lighting use inside caves was evidence of bat cave mismanagement. The vulnerability of caves to encroachment is associated with the accessibility to cave where sites with large openings and near human settlements are heavily exploited. Another factor contributing to this mismanagement was the poor community understanding of the presence of cave bats and the ecological services they provide. A series of conservation education programs in the community and training of students for future cave bat studies was spearheaded in cooperation of the conservation group of the different institutions, with the hope to escalate cave bat understanding and appreciation that will lead to their protection.
With the information on hand, strengthening the kick-starting efforts and forging a partnership with various stakeholders is an essential next step forward to conserve the threatened population of cave bats in south-central Mindanao. Recently, a science-based action plan was forged. Different researches published about caves and bats of south-central Mindanao, the Philippines has become key steps in crafting the Pisan Cave Conservation and Management Action Plan. The policy encompasses the sustainable management of the caves, conserving its natural resources without compromising the needs of the surrounding communities. The action plan will also address the issues pointed from previous studies. These include unregulated hunting, cave bat hunting, unsustainable guano extraction, and deforestation in the cave exterior. Furthermore, through this policy, sustainable and supervised ecotourism will be introduced in the area, which will be managed by concerned governmental agencies.
Future: Gaps on Knowledge and Research Needs on bats in south-central Mindanao
In south-central Mindanao, it is important that bat researchers should be guided by which research priorities they should work on and focus (specialize). This is to uncover other bat species currently unrecorded and to synergistically understand populations. Despite the positive relationship between a number of studies and species richness, research themes and approaches are still lacking diversity. One of the most important priorities that should be set in the region should focus on the taxonomy and systematic of different species, especially those species that belongs to the family Hipposideridae and Rhinolophidae. The accurate taxonomic examination or identification of a species are essential in assessing the state of biodiversity (Dubois (2003). In addition, it is important to properly appropriate conservation measures of the species or of the population in terms of its ecological status and endemism. Consequently, population monitoring should be among the research priorities in the region, especially for those highly vulnerable species and habitats (i.e. flying foxes and cave bats).
The elucidation of bat ecosystem services in the region should be another priority. To showcase the ecological values of bats in the ecosystem are among the important keys in protecting the species at the same time maintaining the provision of their services. South central Mindanao harbors a large area of fruit crops and orchard plantation, such as Durian and Rambutan, which is pollinated fruit bats Eonycteris speleae (Bumrungsri et al., 2013).
The impacts of deforestation and other land-use types to bat population and assemblages should also be examined in the region. Oil palm and rubber plantations are among the fast growing agricultural crops in the region and currently expanding to most forested areas. Habitat loss is one of the main threats to bats worldwide (Hutson et al., 2001; Racey and Entwistle, 2003). Relative deforestation rates in Southeast Asia are the highest of any tropical region, and as much as 74% of forests may be lost by the end of the century (Sodhi et al., 2004; Miettinen et al., 2011). Additionally, the continuous climate change and land-use change may exacerbate species extinction in Southeast Asia in the near decade.
The interactions of human to bats and its habitat is also an interesting aspect of bat research to explore in the region. Illegal hunting and trade of bats from caves have also become a concern in bat cave conservation, many caves species are exploited for food, bush meat, and trade (Francis et al., 1999; Hutson et al., 2001). For example, some indigenous tribes in the Philippines believed bat meat has special medicinal properties and may cure certain diseases (Mildenstein, 2012). Bat hunting for bush meat and medicine is widespread and affects at least 167 species of bats within the tropics, and most are fruit bats and flying foxes (Mildenstein et al., 2016).
The current diversity, threats and research gaps are discussed in this paper. Based on the information gathered and integrated. Some important recommendations to address different concerns towards bat conservation was synthesized. The following were recommended for future work and directions.
- Increase bat studies and field surveys in the region with special attention to conservation areas, the forest remains, and in caves and underground habitats.
- Establish bat research networks, collaborative science, and linkages among regional/national researchers and international researchers and organizations.
- Locate and identify areas with possible roosting sites of flying foxes, cave bats, and other large populations.
- Initiate and increase studies on ecological aspects, especially on the pest control services, pollination and seed dispersal, and interactions among species and its habitat.
- Increase conservation-education programs especially in areas with known high bat diversities.
- Encourage and train young bat researchers in the region to sustain the need for conservationists and advocates in the region.
- Engage partnerships and increase research capacities among the students, academics, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, NGO’s and locals.