Dwindling flying fox numbers, dying durian market

  • Nation Premium
  • Saturday, 30 Sep 2017

PETALING JAYA: Flying foxes are disappearing from our forests and according to a team of researchers, this could be devastating to the multimillion-ringgit durian industry.

Flying fox specialist Dr Sheema Abdul Aziz (pix, below) said her team's research showed that the giant fruit bats, known as "keluang" in Malay, are major pollinators of durian trees.

Unfortunately, flying foxes are commonly killed as pests as there is a perception that their large form – they are the biggest of all the bat species – are destructive to the trees which produce the “king of fruits.”

Her study, which included placing camera traps in durian trees on Pulau Tioman, however, found the opposite was true: Not only are they non-destructive, but they play a crucial role in the pollination process.

And the decline in the flying fox population could lead to fewer or poorer-quality durians.

“Previously, people believed flying foxes eat the durian flowers but our study shows the exact opposite. They do not destroy the flowers, they merely drink the nectar by licking it with their tongues.

“The pollen from the flowers sticks to their fur while they feed on the nectar, and the pollen is transferred and cross-pollinated when the flying foxes move to feed on other trees,” Dr Sheema said.

She also noted that cross-pollination, the process of transferring pollen from the anther of a flower one plant to the stigma of the flower of another plant of the same species, is essential to the production of healthy fruit.

Previous studies have also shown that durian trees have evolved to be perfectly suited to bat pollination, making these animals the main and most effective pollinators for durian trees.

The durian industry “owes a huge debt” to these bats, said Dr Sheema.


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