Two Aberdeen University zoologists are to carry out the first nationwide survey of fruit bats in Madagascar, with the aim of putting them on the conservation agenda.
Research fellows Clare Hawkins and James MacKinnon will also introduce a public education programme in Madagascar to highlight the importance of the bats in maintaining their forests.
Fruit bats play a vital role in the regeneration of tropical forests by eating fruits and spreading their seeds over wide areas. When taking nectar from flowers, the bats also become covered with pollen, and play an important role in pollinating many tropical trees.
Paul Racey, Aberdeen's regius professor of natural history, who is overseeing the project, said: "This is a very significant project since it will reveal whether Madagascar has enough fruit bats left to maintain the forests." Dr Hawkins and Dr MacKinnon will survey bat roosts throughout the island, discovering how big they are, how important they are, and whether or not they are under threat from the human population, some of whom eat the bats.
The study, funded with Pounds 90,000 from the Darwin Initiative, will take place over two years. There are 160 species of fruit bats in the Old World Tropics, with three species indigenous to Madagascar.