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Can Pteropus giganteus Brünnich, 1782 co-exist in a human dominated landscape? A case study in Pokhara valley, western Nepal

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Pteropus giganteus Brunnich, 1782 is the largest species of bat found in Nepal. Among the 20 colonies of P. giganteus recorded in Nepal, Chinnedanda, in the Pokhara valley, has been one of the most important diurnal roost sites for many decades, hosting a colony with up to 500 individuals. The existence of this species in Chinnedanda is threatened due to habitat encroachment and cutting of preferred roosting trees (Bombax ceiba and Dendrocalamus strictus) by local residents. Here we describe the effect of house construction on the colony and its shift from Chinnedanda to Shanti Banbatika, a nearby (4 km away) alternative roost. Monthly roost count surveys were conducted from July 2016 to December 2017 in order to understand the changes in numbers of roosting bats at both sites. Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to assess the effect of building construction on the colony in Chinnedanda. Our findings indicate that the effects of building construction on the bats roosting at Chinnedanda became significantly more evident after four months of construction and suggest that the cutting of preferred roosting vegetation (Dendrocalamus strictus) for construction of buildings to use as scaffolding resources was the main factor causing the colony to relocate to Shanti Banbatika. Shanti Banbatika is now the primary roost site for P. giganteus in the Pokhara valley. The forest grove at this location should be preserved and human disturbances minimized to maintain it as a suitable roost for P. giganteus in future.
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Journal of Bat Research & Conservaon Volume 11 (1) 2018
Journal of
Bat Research and Conservaon www.secemu.org
DOI: 10.14709/BarbJ.11.1.2018.06
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Can Pteropus giganteus Brünnich, 1782 co-exist in a human dominated
landscape? A case study in Pokhara valley, western Nepal
Basant Sharma¹,2,3,*, Anoj Subedi³, Kritagya Gyawali¹, ³, Prashant Ghimire³, Bhuwan Singh Bist³
Sanjeev Baniya¹,²,³
1 Bat Friends Pokhara, Nepal.
2 Nepal Bat Research and
Conservation Union (NeBRCU).
3 Instute of Forestry (IOF
Pokhara), Tribhuvan University,
Nepal.
*Corresponding author e-mail:
b.s.sharma237@gmail.com
DOI: hps://doi.org/10.14709/
BarbJ.11.1.2018.06
Keywords: bamboo harvest,
Dendrocalamus strictus,
encroachment, housing, Nepal,
Pokhara valley, Pteropus
giganteus.
received: March, 08th 2018
accepted: July, 21st 2018
ABSTRACT
Pteropus giganteus Brunnich, 1782 is the largest species of bat found in Nepal. Among the
20 colonies of P. giganteus recorded in Nepal, Chinnedanda, in the Pokhara valley, has been
one of the most important diurnal roost sites for many decades, hosng a colony with up to
500 individuals. The existence of this species in Chinnedanda is threatened due to habitat
encroachment and cung of preferred roosng trees (Bombax ceiba and Dendrocalamus
strictus) by local residents. Here we describe the eect of house construcon on the colony
and its shi from Chinnedanda to Shan Banbaka, a nearby (4 km away) alternave roost.
Monthly roost count surveys were conducted from July 2016 to December 2017 in order
to understand the changes in numbers of roosng bats at both sites. Pearson correlaon
coecients were calculated to assess the eect of building construcon on the colony in
Chinnedanda. Our ndings indicate that the eects of building construcon on the bats
roosng at Chinnedanda became signicantly more evident aer four months of construcon
and suggest that the cung of preferred roosng vegetaon (Dendrocalamus strictus) for
construcon of buildings to use as scaolding resources was the main factor causing the
colony to relocate to Shan Banbaka. Shan Banbaka is now the primary roost site for P.
giganteus in the Pokhara valley. The forest grove at this locaon should be preserved and
human disturbances minimized to maintain it as a suitable roost for P. giganteus in future.
INTRODUCTION
Urbanizaon is a major process of land use change that has
considerably transformed habitats and landscapes available
to wildlife (Russo & Ancilloo 2015). The on-going massive
growth of urban areas has resulted in the replacement of
original habitats in most areas of the world (Baker & Harris
2007). Many studies have found that urbanizaon may have
detrimental eects to the natural communies including:
habitat loss and fragmentaon (Scolozzi & Genele 2012)
and may inuence species distribuon, abundance and
movements (Tait et al. 2014). Urbanizaon either leads to
species exclusion or behavioral adjustment, from foraging
paerns to breeding ming (Lowry et al. 2013). Among other
urban species, bats are a highly diverse group of mammals
that occur worldwide and several species persist in cies
and towns (Jung & Kalko 2011). Due to the coexistence
with human populaons in urban landscape, some species
may eventually come into conict with humans over living
space and food (Sedhain & Adhikary 2016), causing impacts
such as vegetaon damage, risk of disease transmission or
dierent living disturbance such as smell and noise (López-
Baucells et al. 2017). Considering the populaon growth of
humans worldwide and the growing demands for access to
land, a greater understanding of the impacts of urbanizaon
on wildlife is urgently needed to provide beer conservaon
strategies for species and their habitats.
Old world fruits bats are members of the family
Pteropodidae which is composed of 42 genera and about 182
species worldwide (Simmons 2005, Wilson & Miermeier
2009), including 13 species in South Asia (Srinivasulu et
al. 2010). Pteropus is one of two genera known as ying
foxes and is the most species-rich genus in the family, with
about 60 species globally (Simmons 2005) and four species
in South Asia, including two that are endemic: Pteropus
faunulus and P. melanotus (Srinivasulu et al. 2010). Flying
foxes mainly forage for fruit and owers, with some traveling
up to 50-100 km daily to nd food (Roberts et al. 2012). Five
species of pteropodids are known from Nepal, four of which
are relavely widespread: Pteropus giganteus (Brünnich
1782), Rouseus leschenaul (Desmarest 1820), Cynopterus
sphinx (Vahl 1797) and Eonycteris spelaea (Dobson 1871).
Sphaerias blanfordi (Thomas 1891) has been recorded only
once in Nepal (Leekagul & McNeely 1977, Acharya et al.
2010).
The Indian ying fox (Pteropus giganteus) is the largest
bat found in Nepal (Acharya et al. 2010). It is listed as Least
Concern on the IUCN Red List and Naonal Red List although
its populaon is decreasing (IUCN 2008, Jnawali et al. 2011).
This species is generally found in large colonies of hundreds
to thousands of individuals although somemes solitary
bats or groups of a few individuals may roost near colonies
(Jnawali et al. 2011). It prefers to roost in tall canopy trees
Basant Sharma, Anoj Subedi, Kritagya Gyawali, Prashant Ghimire, Bhuwan Singh Bist, Sanjeev Baniya
Journal of Bat Research & Conservaon Volume 11 (1) 2018
with small trunk diameters of Bombax ceiba, Dalbergia
sissoo, Tectona grandis and Eucalyptus camaldulensis
near ponds and roadsides (Acharya et al. 2010, Gulraiz et
al. 2015). Populaons of P. giganteus have been greatly
reduced due to deforestaon, electrocuon, and hunng
(Ali 2010) as well as human development such as road
expansion, building construcon, and renovaon of temples
(Srinivasulu & Srinivasulu 2004, Molur et al. 2008, Gaikwad
et al. 2012).
The Pokhara valley is a major hotspot for bat species
richness in Nepal, hosng 17 of the 53 species of bats
recorded in the country (Giri 2009, Acharya et al. 2010,
Thapa 2010). The valley has supported one of Nepal’s
most important roosts of P. giganteus at Chinnedanda for
many decades, with up to 500 individuals present in 2011
(Bista 2011). This is the only known colony in the valley
and is one of 20 colonies exisng in the naon (Giri 2009,
Acharya 2015, Sharma 2016). However, this roost site has
become more threatened in recent years due to human
encroachment, habitat destrucon, and the cung of
preferred roost trees, Bombax ceiba by local residents to
prepare a land for construcon of houses (Adhikari 2009,
Bista 2011). Aer the harvest of half of the bats’ roost trees
from 2011 to 2016, most of the colony were found to roost
in Dendrocalamus strictus, a species of bamboo (Adhikari
2009, Bista 2011, Sharma 2016). Then in early 2016, half of
the colony moved to a new roost site at Shan Banbaka
4km from Chinnedanda (Sharma 2016). This is the rst
record of colony establishment in Shan Banbaka. In this
paper, we describe the recent size of this colony, the eect
of housing construcon near the roost at Chinnedanda and
invesgate the probable causes of the colony’s displacement
to a new locaon.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Study site
The Pokhara valley in western Nepal covers an area of
123 sq km and occurs within Kaski district. The valley has
a humid sub-tropical monsoonal climate with hot and wet
summers and cold and fairly dry winters. Average daily
temperatures range between 25° and 33°C in summer and
between -2°C and 15°C in winter (Kansakar et al. 2004), with
a mean annual precipitaon of <3000 mm (Khanal 1995).
Altude is approximately 849m a.s.l.
The two colony roosts described in this study are located
in Chinnedanda (28°10’53.4”N, 84°00’42.5”E) and Shan
Banbaka (28°12’44”N, 83°59’33”E) in the Pokhara valley
(Fig. 1). Chinnedanda is dominated by agricultural farms, but
is becoming increasingly urbanized with expanded human
selement and roads. Bombax ceiba, Dendrocalamus
strictus, Ficus religiosia and Morus alba comprise the
prominent vegetaon scaered near the roost. Shan
Banbaka occurs on a small secluded tract of land (~15ha)
belonging to the Instute of Forestry (IOF), Tribhuvan
University, and is surrounded by an urbanized area. The
trees Diploknema butyraceae, Osmanthus sauvis, Prunus
cerasoides, Dalbergia sisoo and Bombax ceiba form a grove
of forest covering part of this site.
Methods
From July 2016 to December 2017, we conducted
monthly roost surveys between 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM on
every rst Saturday at both roost sites to count the numbers
of P. giganteus present. Following the direct roost count
Fig. 1- Map of the study area in the Pokhara Valley, Nepal. Source: Bajracharya (2013) Land cover of Nepal 2010: ICIMOD,
created using Arc GIS 10.3.1 by Milan Budha.
Can Pteropus giganteus (Brünnich, 1782) co-exist in a human dominated landscape? A case study in Pokhara valley, western Nepal
Journal of Bat Research & Conservaon Volume 11 (1) 2018
method of Kunz et al. (1996), we recorded the total numbers
of bats roosng on tree and bamboo branches with the aid
of tally counters and binoculars (Bushnell 8x42). Addionally,
numbers and species of trees and bamboo used by roosng
bats and numbers of new houses/buildings being built
within a 200-m radius of the centre of the colony were
counted each month at Chinnedanda. Distances between
these new houses/buildings to the edge of the colony were
also measured.
We reviewed published and unpublished literature (e.g.,
relevant arcles and theses) to obtain baseline informaon
about the characteriscs of the colony and changes to the
study area.
To assess the inuence of building construcon on the
colony at Chinnedanda Pearson correlaon coecients
were calculated between the numbers of buildings/houses
built each month and the resulng dierence in colony size.
The dierence in colony size was assessed as the dierence
between the colony size during the survey and the colony
size detected the ve following months. We assumed that
the eect would be most noceable during ve months
following the start of the building construcon, since this is
the me typically required to construct a house in Pokhara
valley. Linear regression was then ed and its R2 values
compared in all ve scenarios.
We also conducted interviews of local villagers living near
the roost at Chinnedanda in January 2017 using a structured
quesonnaire (Table S2). Fiy local villagers of ages 25 to
55 years old were randomly selected for the interviews,
including builders, workers, house owners, and women.
Interview topics focused on P. giganteus and the impacts of
housing construcon acvies on the bats.
RESULTS
At the beginning of our study (July 2016), we found
substanally smaller numbers of bats (129 individuals)
using the Chinnendanda roost compared to the colony size
reported in 2011, as well as a decrease in the number of
preferred roost trees at the site (Table S1, Fig. 2 & 3). During
the same survey, we recorded 34 bats at Shan Banbaka.
Bat numbers at Chinnedanda decreased to just 44 bats by
December 2016, coinciding with a rapid increase in housing
construcon (Table S1, Fig. 2). During 2017, this site was
either unoccupied or held ≤30 bats (Fig. 5). In contrast,
roost size at Shan Banbaka grew rapidly to 217 bats
from September to December 2016, gradually declined to
112 bats by July 2017, and increased substanally again
during September and October 2017, reaching a peak of
288 individuals (Table S1, Fig. 2 & 4). Colony size at the two
roosts combined averaged 220 bats during the study, with a
peak count of 290 bats in October 2016.
Fieen new houses were built near the roost at
Chinnedanda during the study period. These were
constructed an average of 59.5m from the edge of the roost,
including three built ≤10 m from the roost edge (the closest
was 2m) at the same me in October 2016 (Table S1).
Fig. 2 - Numbers of Pteropus giganteus at the Chinnedanda and
Shan Banbaka roosts during this study.
Fig. 3 – Pteropus giganteus roosng in Bombax ceiba at
Chinnedanda in July 2016. Credit: Basant Sharma
Fig. 4 – Using bamboo as scaolding (red circle) near the bat roost
at Chinnedanda in January 2017: Dendrocalamus strictus (black
arrow) and Bombax ceiba (white arrow) Credit: Basant Sharma
Basant Sharma, Anoj Subedi, Kritagya Gyawali, Prashant Ghimire, Bhuwan Singh Bist, Sanjeev Baniya
Linear regression lines between numbers of houses
built and the dierence in colony size detected in following
months always indicated negave correlaon suggesng
a detrimental eect due to construcon acvies (Fig. 6).
Values of R² varied substanally depending on the number
of months considered in the regression, with the minimum
(0.16) observed when only the rst month was chosen, and
the maximum (0.56) when the following four months were
included. R2 remained nearly equal whether three (0.39) or
ve (0.40) months were considered (Fig. 6).
Journal of Bat Research & Conservaon Volume 11 (1) 2018
Of the 50 respondents, 14% were classied as builders/
contractors, 32% as workers, 30% as house owners and
24% as housewives; 60% of the total were male. Ages of
respondents were 25-35 years old (50%), 35-45 years old
(30%) and 45-55 years old (20%). A total of 80% of the
respondents believed that colony size at Chinnedanda was
generally decreasing compared to previous years, whereas
8% thought it was stable, 2% believed it was increasing, and
10% were unaware of the colony. Regarding the cung of
roost vegetaon, 72% of the respondents believed it was
appropriate to cut down and use Dendrocalamus strictus as
scaolding for building construcon, whereas 12% thought
the vegetaon should be preserved and 16% had no opinion.
Forty-two percent of respondents had lived in Chinnedanda
for more than 10 years, 24% for 1 to 10 years, 14% for less
than 1 year and 20% were not residents (e.g., builders/
contractors and workers).
DISCUSSION
The combined numbers of P. giganteus roosng at Shan
Banbaka and Chinnedanda during our study ranged from
142 to 290 bats, represenng a decline of about 42 to 72
percent in the size of the full colony since 2011. Furthermore,
the roost at Chinnedanda, which had been occupied for
many years, was no longer in use by the end of our study
period. This roost suered from two main problems: (1) the
cung of preferred roosng trees (Bombax ceiba) by locals
(Adhikari 2009) and (2) the construcon of houses near the
colony, which further reduced the availability of preferred
roosng trees (Bista 2011). Due to lack of preferred roosng
trees the majority of populaon switched to roosng in
clumps of bamboos, which appeared to oer a sasfactory
alternave over B. ceiba (Bista 2011, Adhikari 2009).
However, much of those bamboos were then harvested and
used as scaolding during building construcon near the
roost. Thus, a decline in roosng vegetaon likely displaced
the colony from this site.
Fig. 5 – Pteropus giganteus roosng in Osmanthus sauvis (up) and
Bombax ceiba (down) at Shan banbaka in January, 2017 Credit:
Basant Sharma
Fig. 6 – Scaer plot represenng ng linear regression lines between the number of houses/building being built and the dierence in
colony size in following one to ve months in Chinnedanda.
Can Pteropus giganteus Brünnich, 1782 co-exist in a human dominated landscape? A case study in Pokhara valley, western Nepal
Journal of Bat Research & Conservaon Volume 11 (1) 2018
Construcon of houses and buildings up to three stories
high are usually completed within ve months in the Pohkara
valley. This includes one to two months for excavaon of
the ground and establishment of the foundaon, and two
to three months to complete the rest of the structure.
Construcon requires the use of scaolding made either of
long bamboo poles or metal steels to elevate the building
structure. Because of the easy accessibility, wide distribuon
and low cost of bamboo, it is one of the major scaolding
resources used in Pokhara valley (Sapkota 2010). Generally,
during the construcon of stories matured bamboos (from
the bat roost as well as non-roost clumps) were harvested
and used as scaolding. During our survey with residents,
we found that most people believed that locally harvested
bamboo was preferable over the use of exported bamboo
poles and metal steel, despite the fact that most of them
were aware of the bat populaon decrease.
Our ndings indicate that the eects of building
construcon on the bats roosng at Chinnedanda became
signicantly more evident aer four months of construcon
suggesng that the eects of those acvies take several
months to reach their maximum impact on the colony
size. Pokhara Internaonal Airport is under construcon in
Pokhara and is located 300m north from the roost. However,
personal observaons indicate that the construcon of
the airport nearby the bat roost and various types of
disturbances associated with housing construcon (close
human presence, noise, and dust) apparently did not aect
the bats.
During our study, Shan Banbaka became the colony’s
primary year-round roosng site, with numbers peaking at
217 bats in December 2016 and 288 bats in October 2017,
which are the highest annual counts ever recorded at this
locaon. Although Shan Banbaka previously funconed
as a foraging site for P. giganteus (Bista 2011), it was not
used as a diurnal roost unl early 2016 (Sharma 2016). The
colony’s switch to this locaon is likely related to its beer
availability of roosng vegetaon and possibly lower levels
of human disturbance than in Chinnedanda.
There has been increase in urbanizaon across the
Pokhara (Rimal 2011). The urban growth rate between
2010 and 2015 was of 5.21% (UNDESA 2014). The city has
experienced rapid changes during this me as most of the
agriculture lands were priorized for either residenal or
commercial purposes. The eect of this alteraon can be
seen in Chinnedanda, which was previously covered mostly
with agriculture lands, but it is currently crowded with
hundreds of buildings and roads with few open spaces and
limited agricultural areas remaining. These changes have had
a negave impact on the P. giganteus colony, and together
with the roosng vegetaon reducon, they have caused its
decline in size and shi to a new roost at Shan Banbaka.
During our study, building construcon acvies were
extremely high near the roost at Chinnedanda. Ten houses
were built during the rst six months of the study, including
three built less than ten meters from roost edge. Numbers
of roosng bats at the site fell dramacally (66%) during
this period, followed by the complete abandonment of the
roost or presence of small numbers of roosng bats during
the remainder of the study period. To our knowledge, this
roost has never been previously unoccupied. Observaons
at Chinnedanda before and during our study indicate that
colonies of P. giganteus at tradional roosng sites can
tolerate some limited human disturbance. However, as
we noted, excessive destrucon of roosng vegetaon
can eventually result in roost deseron. Although the
extent to which P. giganteus is resilient to anthropogenic
stresses remains unexplored, we believe that the roost
at Chinnedanda could be permanently abandoned in the
future if a lack of sucient roosng vegetaon connues.
The combined populaon of P. giganteus in Chinnedanda
and Shan Banbaka increased from September to December
in both study years, suggesng that the resident ying fox
populaon in the Pokhara valley may be supplemented
by migratory individuals. Other studies have shown that
colony size of P. giganteus usually does not remain constant
throughout the year (e.g., Bates & Harrison 1997). Acharya
(2008) recorded seasonal variaon in colony size in Nepal’s
Kathmandu valley and, similar to our study, noted increasing
numbers during autumn (aer the monsoon). Some ying
fox species are known to travel relavely long distances in a
few days (Fleming & Eby 2003). Long-distance movements,
including annual migraon, provide access to widely spaced
and temporally variable food resources, as well as the
opportunity to use dierent areas for roosng and feeding
(Roberts et al. 2012). During autumn in Nepal, areas of
lower elevaon (e.g., the country’s Terai region) may oer
limited food resources for P. giganteus, which may compel
the bats to move to higher nearby elevaons or to more
distant regions such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Seasonal movement paerns have not yet been examined
for P. giganteus and deserve further study.
The year-round presence of P. giganteus at Shan
Banbaka during our study and the small distance (4km)
between this site and Chinnedanda indicate that the
occupaon of Shan Banbaka is not related to seasonal
factors such as food availability and maternity care. Shan
Banbaka now appears to be the primary diurnal roost
for P. giganteus in the Pokhara valley, with peak numbers
at mes reaching nearly 300 bats comprised of both year-
round residents and migratory individuals. It is important
that the grove of trees at this site be preserved and human
disturbance minimized to maintain the site as a suitable
roost for P. giganteus. We also recommend connued
monitoring of the colony and documentaon of current
habitat condions at the site so that any future changes in
forest structure can be more easily recognized.
Populaons of P. giganteus and their habitat are
increasingly threatened (Jnawali et al. 2011), not only in the
Pokhara valley but across much of the species’ distribuon
(Acharya et al. 2010). Hunng and habitat modicaon are
two of the major ying fox-human conicts in Nepal. Hunng
P. giganteus for meat in Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts
(eastern Nepal), Rautahat and Bhaktapur districts (central
Nepal), and Rupandehi, Dang and Kanchanpur districts
(western Nepal), and widespread habitat modicaon in
the country currently exert high pressure on this species
(Acharya 2015). The government of Nepal lists P. giganteus
as Least Concern, but if intensive hunng and rapid habitat
Basant Sharma, Anoj Subedi, Kritagya Gyawali, Prashant Ghimire, Bhuwan Singh Bist, Sanjeev Baniya
Journal of Bat Research & Conservaon Volume 11 (1) 2018
modicaon connue at present rates, the species will
likely need to be uplisted to a higher threatened category
in the future. Appropriate guidelines and public awareness
must be formulated to minimize hunng pressure, whereas
proper management strategies must be launched to lower
anthropogenic pressures on habitat. Further educaonal
and communicaon eort is sll essenal to achieve good
conservaon pracces, especially considering the results of
our interviews in which, although most of the respondents
were aware of the bat populaon decline, only 12% were
in favor of preserving the nave vegetaon. This case study
not only illustrates the problems facing P. giganteus in the
Pokhara valley, but also shows that increasing anthropogenic
pressure can negavely impact the habitat and behavior of
other wild species in Nepal.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
We express our hearelt gratude and appreciaon to
Adrià López-Baucells for his consistent encouragement,
valuable suggestions and guidelines for publicaon of
this paper. We also thank Gary Wiles and two anonymous
reviewers for their comments, which greatly improved
the manuscript. We are grateful to Dr. Pushpa Raj
Acharya, research ocer of Nepal Academics of Science
and Technology (NAST) and Chairperson of Nepal Bat
Research and Conservaon Union (NeBRCU) for his ongoing
encouragement and professional guidance in eld research.
We express our sincere thanks to key members of “Bat friend
Pokhara” for their technical and material support during
eld visits; Milan Budha for creang the map of study area;
and Bandana Subedi, Sudha Ghimire, Shristee Panthi, Sunita
Kunwar, Barsha Tripathi, Ambika Regmi, Anisha Neupane,
Kamana Pathak and the Shirish guys for their assistance in
the eld.
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Basant Sharma, Anoj Subedi, Kritagya Gyawali, Prashant Ghimire, Bhuwan Singh Bist, Sanjeev Baniya
... Population of Pteropus goganteus is declining both at global and national scale. This is predominately due to habitat loss and degradation, loss of large trees, reduction in food availability, introduction of power lines, hunting, etc. (Jnawali et al. 2011, Acharya 2015, Manandhar et al. 2017, Sharma et al. 2018. The present study was conducted to reveal major threats to survival of bats in this area and also alarms for decline of fruit bat population (Pteropus giganteus) by electrocution. ...
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