Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Critically Endangered
Listing and Conservation Advices Commonwealth Listing Advice on ten species of Bats (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001a) [Listing Advice].
Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans National recovery plan for the Christmas Island Pipistrelle Pipistrellus murrayi (Schulz, M. and Lumsden, L., 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat Abatement Plan for Reduction in Impacts of Tramp Ants on Biodiversity in Australia and its Territories (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006p) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Threat abatement plan to reduce the impacts of exotic rodents on biodiversity on Australian offshore islands of less than 100 000 hectares 2009 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2009u) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Bats. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.1 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010m) [Admin Guideline].
Information Sheets Final Report of the Christmas Island Expert Working Group to the Minister for the Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010a) [Information Sheet].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Inclusion of species in the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (29/03/2001) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2001h) [Legislative Instrument].
Inclusion of species in the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (47) (06/09/2006) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006e) [Legislative Instrument].
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Critically Endangered (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Pipistrellus murrayi [64383]
Family Vespertilionidae:Chiroptera:Mammalia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Andrews,1900
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Pipistrellus murrayi

Common name: Christmas Island Pipistrelle, Murray's Pipistrelle, Murray's Pipistrelle Bat

The Christmas Island Pipistrelle, Pipistrellus murrayi, was described in 1900 (Andrews 1900). In a revision of Australo-Papuan Pipistrellus Kitchener et al. (1986) considered P. murrayi a distinct species, and a systematic review of the Vespertilioninae (evening bats, long-eared bats, myotis bats, pipistrelles, serotines, and relatives) based on baculum (a slender bone reinforcing the penis) by Hill and Harrison (1987) listed P. murrayi as a separate taxon.

Although the most accepted view is that this species represents an endemic taxon on Christmas Island, there are varying opinions regarding the taxonomic status of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle. Koopman (1973, 1993) listed P. murrayi as conspecific with P. tenuis based on a lack of distinction from other island forms of Pipistrellus in the Indo-Australian area, however no data were provided to justify this position. Pipistrellus tenuis is a widespread species within southern and South-East Asia, with Java representing the nearest locality to Christmas Island (Corbet and Hill 1992).

The Christmas Island Pipistrelle is a small insectivorous bat with dark brown fur, weighing between 3–4.5 g with a forearm length 30–33 mm (Churchill 1998). It is Australia's smallest species of bat, and there is no difference in the appearance of the sexes. It is sedentary, with females forming colonies of up to approximately 50 individuals, while males sometimes roost solitarily (Lumsden, unpublished data). It roosts under exfoliating bark on dead trees, under loose dead fronds of palm and pandanus trees, in hollows in large live trees and under strangler figs (Lumsden et al. 1999).

The former and current distribution of this species is limited to Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. Prior to the 1990s, the species was widespread across the whole island. Since then its distribution has contracted dramatically westwards and it is now only found in the western section of the island (James 2004, 2005; Lumsden et al. 1999).

The extent of occurrence of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle is currently estimated at approximately 25 km². This is based on extensive detector surveys across the island (Lumsden unpublished data; James 2004, 2005).

Surveys undertaken in the mid-1980s found the species to be widespread and common across the whole island (135 km²) and Tidemann (1985) concluded that its status appeared to be secure. However, two studies in the 1990s revealed that a marked reduction in abundance and a westward range contraction was occurring (Lumsden & Cherry 1997, Lumsden et al. 1999). In 1994, the species appeared to be uncommon especially in the north-eastern section of the island (Lumsden & Cherry 1997). By 1998 it had contracted westward and was no longer recorded in the north-east section of the island despite extensive sampling in suitable habitat (Lumsden et al. 1999). This range contraction has continued at a rapid rate and the species is now confined to the far west of the island. It no longer occurs across more than 80% of its former range (James 2004, 2005). The range of the Pipistrelle contracted from the western 60 km² to the western 25 km² of the island in six years (1998–2004), a decline of 58% (James 2004). Monitoring undertaken between 2004 and 2006 for the Christmas Island Biodiversity Monitoring Programme found the species at only three sites, and mostly at low densities (DoNP 2008a). James (2005) undertook surveys in 95 sites in the west of the island in an attempt to delineate the range of the species and to locate additional populations. No additional populations were found.

Although there is no firm data to indicate future changes in extent of occurrence, given that the species is currently in decline, and the cause for this decline has not yet been determined, it is highly likely that the decline will continue into the future.

The area of occupancy is based on extensive detector surveys across the island. The current area of occupancy for this species is 1213 km², using 1 km² 30" x 30" grid cells that include all recent records (2005–2006) as the basis for determining area of occupancy. Most individuals are located in the western cluster of grid cells. Detector records from the three grid cells in the centre of the island suggest that this represents a very small number of individuals (likely to be less than 10).

The species now occurs in an area less than 25 km². This is considered a single location (Lumsden pers. comm. 2006). Although a gap between records in the far west and those in the centre exists, this is not considered a disconnect as this gap is less than 2 km, which is less than the known foraging range of individuals of this species.

There have been no captive bred populations or reintroductions.

There have been extensive surveys for the Christmas Island Pipistrelle in the last 10 years. In 1994 Lumsden and Cherry (1997) sampled 42 sites using a combination of harp traps and ultrasonic bat detectors. In 1998, Lumsden and colleagues (1999) sampled 84 sites across the island using ultrasonic bat detectors, trapped bats at a subset of these sites and drove 2500 km at night searching for flying individuals. Corbett and colleagues (2003) sampled 21 sites with detectors. In recent years, James (2004, 2005) has conducted extensive surveys for the Pipistrelle, sampling well over 100 sites using bat detectors. Lumsden and colleagues (unpublished) intensively trapped the western end of the island and undertook further detector surveys away from the known sites in an attempt to locate further subpopulations. None were found.

It is not possible to determine precisely the number of individual bats remaining. However, based on distribution and the activity levels recorded during bat detectors surveys, along with the number of individuals observed exiting maternity roosts, it was considered that the population could be as few as 500 individuals (James 2005, James unpublished data, Lumsden et al. 2007). Further data suggests that the number could be as low as 20 individuals (Lumsden 2009).

All remaining individuals are considered to be part of the same population. These occur within the Christmas Island National Park and outside the park in areas leased to Christmas Island Phosphates for phosphate mining.

In conjunction with the rapid decline in distribution, the abundance of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle has also declined dramatically in recent years. Declines in abundance have been documented by a long-term monitoring program whereby a large number of sites have been re-sampled using the same technique over a number of years (ie bat detectors sampling for the same time periods). Although the number of calls recorded on the bat detectors cannot be used to determine the number of individuals present, it represents the level of bat activity and can be used as a surrogate for abundance. Comparison of results from 22 sites sampled in both 1994 and 1998 showed a 33% decline in bat activity levels (Lumsden et al. 1999). Comparisons of activity levels from detector surveys at 44 sites sampled in both 1998 and 2004 revealed a further 55–65% decline in the number of calls recorded, or 10% per year (James 2004). Further monitoring in 2005 and 2006 shows that the decline is continuing (DoNP 2008a). There was an 11% decline in activity levels in one year at 27 sites surveyed in both 2004 and 2005. In 2006, a significant decline (approximately 49%) in abundance was seen across 12 sites chosen for fine scale monitoring of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle (DoNP 2008a).

The decline in abundance appears to have continued at a consistent rate since at least 1994. Decline has been determined by the number of bat calls recorded on detectors at fixed stations in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2005 (Lumsden et al. 1999, Corbett et al. 2003, James 2005, DoNP 2008a), comparing the activity levels to those recorded in 1994 (setting the 1994 population level at 100% as this is the first year that quantitative data is available), although it is clear that the decline was already underway at this time. There was an 11% decline in activity levels in one year at 27 sites surveyed in both 2004 and 2005. Surveys for the species in January 2009 suggest that the Christmas Island Pipistrelle will become extinct in 2009 without extensive intervention (Lumsden 2009).

Insectivorous bats do not normally undergo extreme fluctuations in population numbers, extent of occurrence or area of occupancy. They are relatively long-lived and have a slow reproductive rate. Although some species of microbats migrate, most species do not, and it is believed that the Christmas Island Pipistrelle is sedentary.

Generation length is unknown, but is likely to be approximately 4–5 years. Females probably breed in the first year of their life, and if this species follows the pattern of similar sized bats, it may typically live up to 8 years (Lumsden unpublished data).

The Christmas Island Pipistrelle is the only species of microbat on Christmas Island. There is no cross-breeding with any other species in the wild.

A large proportion of the one remaining population is within the Christmas Island National Park (Schulz and Lumsden 2004, James 2005).

This species roosts in primary rainforest, both on the plateau and terraces. It forages in a range of habitats: primary rainforest, secondary regrowth and rehabilitated areas (Lumsden et al. 1999).
The Christmas Island Pipistrelle has been recorded in a range of habitats, including plateau and terrace rainforest, secondary rainforest regrowth (of all ages), mine regeneration areas and formerly around the Settlement area (Tidemann 1985, Lumsden & Cherry 1997, Lumsden & Tidemann 1999, Lumsden et al. 1999). However, different habitat components may be important to provide for different life cycle requirements.

Foraging Habitat
The Christmas Island Pipistrelle is an edge specialist where it forages on a variety of flying insects, in particular moths and beetles (Lumsden & Cherry 1997, Lumsden et al. 1999). Evidence suggests it favours vegetation ecotones, tracks and other small gaps within primary rainforest. It probably also uses the top of the canopy as a foraging edge. Tidemann (1985) recorded it foraging on the ecotone of primary rainforest and rehabilitation areas or secondary regrowth, and along tracks and drill lines within primary rainforest. Individuals were also encountered foraging around buildings in the settlement. Lumsden and colleagues (1999) found the highest levels of foraging activity occurred in areas of primary rainforest, secondary rainforest regrowth, and the ecotone of primary rainforest and secondary rainforest regrowth. Low levels of foraging activity were recorded in rehabilitation areas. Although individuals were recorded flying over mined sites no foraging activity was recorded here and they were likely to be using these areas as commuting routes to other foraging areas.

Within primary rainforest, Lumsden and Cherry (1997) suggested that the main foraging activity was concentrated along edges within small clearings, such as tracks, regenerating drill lines and clearings caused by treefalls. Lumsden and colleagues (1999) tested this at 16 paired sites where bat activity levels were sampled on tracks and in the adjacent rainforest, and found higher foraging activity levels along tracks compared to adjacent rainforest away from distinct edges.

Within foraging areas, bats have been recorded feeding from just above the ground level (approximately 0.1 m) to 20 m above primary rainforest canopy (Tidemann 1985, Lumsden & Cherry 1997, Lumsden et al. 1999).

Diurnal Roosting Habitat
All roosts of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle have been located within primary rainforest. No roosts have been found in caves, rock overhangs or buildings (Lumsden et al. 1999, Lumsden & Tidemann 1999).

Lumsden and colleagues (1999) tracked seven radio-tagged bats during the non-breeding season (June 1998) and found them roosting singly or in clusters of up to 47 individuals, in a variety of situations in primary plateau rainforest within the Christmas Island National Park:

  • under exfoliating bark of dead canopy trees, predominantly Tristiropsis acutangula, 6 to 20 m above the ground (n = 7)
  • under flaking fibrous matter on the trunk of live Arenga Palms (Arenga listeri), 15 m above the ground (n = 1)
  • under dead fronds of live renga palms or Pandan (Pandanus sp.), 15 and 5 m above ground respectively (n = 2)
  • under a Strangler Fig against the trunk of a canopy tree 5 m above the ground (n = 1)
  • in the hollow of a Syzygium nervosum 26 m above the ground level (n = 1).

Available information suggests that roost site fidelity is variable; some individuals shift between roosts daily while others utilised the same site for at least seven consecutive days. As with many other small insectivorous bats, this species displayed roost area fidelity, shifting roost site regularly between a number of nearby roosts (distance between consecutive roosts: 14 to 186 m, n = 9).

Early in the wet season, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle forms maternity colonies. Seven maternity roosts were located in December 2005 at the time when females were giving birth to their young. All roosts were under loose bark on dead trees. Colony sizes ranged up to 50 individuals. Although little data could be collected on the movement patterns between maternity roosts, it was apparent that individuals switched between a number of maternity roosts in a similar way to non-breeding individuals, although possibly not as often (Lumsden & Schulz unpublished data).

Details on the age of sexual maturity and life expectancy are currently unknown. Microbats typically start to reproduce in either the first or second year of their lives. Since approximately 80% of the females caught during the breeding season in December 2005 were either pregnant or had recently given birth to young (Lumsden unpublished data), it suggests that this species follows the typical microbat pattern. Life expectancy for microbats varies greatly. Some individuals have been recorded living more than 30 years (Tuttle & Stevenson 1982), however, eight years appears to be a more typical life expectancy in studies conducted in Victoria (Lumsden unpublished data).

Nothing is known of the natural mortality of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle.

Christmas Island Pipistrelle females give birth at the start of the wet season when insect numbers are high. In December 2005, 41 females were trapped, of which 82% had either just given birth or were heavily pregnant (Lumsden et al., unpublished data). Tidemann (1985) suggested that pregnancy is likely to commence during September with a single young born in December. Lactation is expected to last for about four weeks into mid or late January. All individuals examined by Tidemann (1985) appeared to be in reproductive synchrony. Therefore there is likely to be only a single breeding season, and each female is likely to produce only one young a year. Tidemann (1985) demonstrated sperm storage in female Christmas Island Pipistrelles, and a delay between mating and ovulation. This strategy is used by other species of insectivorous bats in environments where there are seasonal fluctuations in food supply (Racey 1982).

Most males trapped in May and June 1998 had partially enlarged testes, indicating they were approaching peak reproductive condition, and that mating was likely in the next few months (Lumsden et al. 1999).

It is not known if any special conditions are needed for breeding, or if any particular conditions inhibit breeding (for example, drought).

Female microbats typically leave their dependent young in the roost at night while they forage and it is expected that the Christmas Island Pipistrelle follows this typical pattern. This leaves the young vulnerable to predation or disturbance by nocturnal predators. Due to the small size of the newborn young (approximately 1 g), they could be vulnerable to a wide range of predators. Maternity roosts are typically located under loose bark on the trunks of dead trees (Lumsden & Schulz unpublished data), making them vulnerable to animals capable of climbing.

Only limited data is currently available on the diet of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle. In an examination of faecal pellets from 10 individuals in 1994, moths represented 52%, beetles 26%, flying ants 21%, bugs 1% and small Diptera 0.1% of the remains (Lumsden & Cherry 1997). Bark lice (Psocoptera) have also been recorded in faecal pellets (James 2005). Comparisons with data on insect availability is required to determine if this species is opportunistically taking what is available within the manageable size range, or whether particular Orders are being actively selected and if this varies seasonally as insect numbers fluctuate.

The Christmas Island Pipistrelle catches its insect prey whilst in flight. The main foraging habitat appears to be small openings in the forest where they forage along the edge of the vegetation (Lumsden et al. 1999). These openings may be the result of habitat modification such as tracks, or due to natural openings from tree falls, and probably also includes the edge formed by the top of the canopy in primary rainforest. A large proportion of the foraging time is spent low to the ground. For example, 87% of observations of Pipistrelles in flight were less than 7 m above the ground in studies conducted in 1994 and 1998 (Lumsden et al. 1999).

Daily movement patterns are represented by individuals roosting during the day in primary rainforest and typically foraging at night in secondary regrowth, up to several kilometres away.

There is no evidence of migration or any seasonal patterns of movement.

Home range sizes have yet to be determined, however individuals have been recorded moving up to 2 km between roost sites and foraging areas (Lumsden et al. 1999).

The cause of the recent decline of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle is not known. Potential threats are listed below.

Except for one death due to Yellow Crazy Ants (see below), no instances of predation have been recorded. However the likelihood of observing the predation of a small, cryptic nocturnal bat is extremely low, and predation is probably occurring but going unrecorded.

Tthe National recovery plan for the Christmas Island Pipistrelle Pipistrellus murrayi(Schulz & Lumsden 2004) and a further assessment of the possible threats by James (2005) identify the following threats.

Predation or disturbance by the Common Wolf Snake (Lycodon aulicus capucinus)
This species is a recent coloniser from South-East Asia that was first recorded in the Settlement area in 1987 (Smith 1988). Elsewhere it is known to forage predominantly on lizards and occasionally small mammals on the ground or in the lower forest strata (Deoras 1978, Daniel 1989, Murthy 1990). The Common Wolf Snake is usually associated with human habitation and on Christmas Island is well established around the Settlement area (Fritts 1993; Rumpff 1992). Until 1998, the only record elsewhere on the island was of a population around the buildings at Grants Well in the centre of the island. In 1998, the location of a number of individuals further west indicated a range expansion for this species (Cogger & Sadlier 1999, Lumsden et al. 1999). This westward range extension continued, and the species is now widespread across the island, including in the far west (James 2005). Although the Common Wolf Snake has been recorded on the edge of primary rainforest it is not known whether it is confined to the edges or is spread throughout rainforest tracts. The Common Wolf Snake is capable of climbing trees (Auffenberg 1980) and may predate on roosting bats, particularly those sheltering under exfoliating bark on the lower trunks of rainforest trees. Non-volant young left in maternity roosts at night while the adults are away foraging may be particularly exposed to predation by this snake. In addition, adults could be preyed upon if trapped inside a roost with a single exit, such as many tree hollows.

Lumsden and colleagues (1999) considered this snake to be a likely factor in the observed decline and westward range contraction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle. In 1984 when Tidemann (1985) recorded the Pipistrelle to be widespread and common, including in the Settlement area, the snake was not yet introduced to the island. However, by the early 1990s, extremely high densities of the snake (up to 500 individuals per ha) were recorded (Rumpff 1992). In 1994 no Pipistrelles were observed in the Settlement, although low levels of activity were recorded at a single site nearby. No Pipistrelles were recorded anywhere in the far north-eastern section of the island in 1998, and anecdotal evidence suggested they disappeared from the Drumsite area of the Settlement several years before (Lumsden et al. 1999). The expansion of the Common Wolf Snake into the central region of the island coincided with the decline of the Pipistrelle in that region during the 1990s. Pipistrelles are now no longer present in this part of the island.

Of all the introduced predators on Christmas Island, the Common Wolf Snake is the only species for which the timing of the introduction was immediately prior to the decline of the Pipistrelle and whose distribution mirrors that of the Pipistrelle. Having evolved in the absence of arboreal predators, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle is likely to be naive to the risk of climbing snakes and would not have developed strategies to avoid such predation. The Common Wolf Snake has had serious detrimental impacts when introduced to other islands. For example, on Reunion Island it has been attributed with causing a decline in endemic mice and the near extinction of a species of gecko (Cheke 1987). Weighing less than 5 g, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle is smaller than some of the other vertebrate species that the Common Wolf Snake has been recorded preying upon.

The arguments against the Wolf Snake being the main cause of the decline is their limited climbing ability, 'sit and wait' foraging strategy, sluggish behaviour and limited penetration into primary rainforest (James 2005). Recent dietary analysis of Wolf Snakes caught primarily in disturbed habitats, have not revealed any Pipistrelles in their stomach contents (D. James, 2005 pers. comm.).

Predation by the introduced Black Rat (Rattus rattus)
This exotic species has been attributed with the extinction, or decline, of bats on islands elsewhere in the world (for examples, see Daniel & Williams 1984; Pryde et al. 2005), and is thought to be a severe threat to native animals on Christmas Island (Commonwealth of Australia 2002). The Black Rat was introduced when the island was first settled in the 1890s, and is now common and widespread throughout the island, and occurs both in areas occupied and not occupied by the Pipistrelle. It is possible that the Black Rat may be a contributing factor in the decline of the Pipistrelle. It is highly arboreal and could be preying on bats within their roosts. Potential changes in the distribution and abundance of this opportunistic rat, in response to altered food resources as a result of the impacts of the Yellow Crazy Ant supercolonies on rainforest structure, may need to be considered.

Predation by the Feral Cat (Felis catus )
This introduced predator became established soon after settlement, and is now common and widespread on the island. It is considered to pose a severe threat to native animals on Christmas Island (Commonwealth of Australia 2002). Although dietary studies have not revealed the Christmas Island Pipistrelle as a prey species (Corbett et al. 2003; Tidemann et al. 1994), it is possible that occasional individuals are captured given their low roosting and foraging habits.

Predation by the Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides)
On mainland Australia, the Nankeen Kestrel preys primarily on terrestrial vertebrates, with bats occasionally recorded as a dietary item (Lewis 1987; Marchant and Higgins 1993). Nankeen Kestrels first arrived on the island in the 1950s and were initially only in low numbers in the north-east section of the island (James 2005). They expanded their range and significantly increased in abundance in the 1980s (H. Rumpff pers. comm. cited in Lumsden et al. 1999). Although a bird of grasslands and other open habitats on mainland Australia, on Christmas Island this species is also widespread in areas of secondary rainforest regrowth. It is absent from extensive tracts of primary rainforest. However, it is present along the edges and tracks through some areas of primary rainforest, using these openings as foraging locations. In 1984, Tidemann (1985) recorded the Pipistrelle hawking insects along roads and ecotones during the late afternoon, several hours before dusk. Foraging by bats during daylight hours on islands elsewhere in the world has been attributed to a lack of avian predators (Speakman 1995). No daytime foraging of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle was observed in studies in 1994, 1998, 2004 and 2005 (Lumsden & Cherry 1997; Lumsden et al. 1999; James 2005) suggesting a temporal shift in foraging behaviour. Such a change in behaviour may be the result of predation pressure, with emergence shifting to dusk when predation risk is lower.

The Nankeen Kestrel is widespread across the island, both in areas that the pipistrelle had disappeared from and in areas where it is still relatively common (James 2005; Lumsden et al. 1999. Therefore, it is unlikely that predation by this species is the primary cause of the decline, however, it may be a compounding factor.

Predation and/or disturbance by the Yellow Crazy Ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes )
The Yellow Crazy Ant is a tramp species that has been recognised as among the top 100 of the "world's worst" invaders by the IUCN and the Global Invasive Species Database (O'Dowd 2002). It has been listed as a key threatening process under the EPBC Act and has been recognised as a key threat to biodiversity on Christmas Island and a Threat Abatement Plan for Reduction in Impacts of Tramp Ants on Biodiversity in Australia and its Territorieshas been developed (DEH 2006). It was accidentally introduced to the island some time between 1915 and 1934 (O'Dowd et al. 1999). These ants form multi-queened supercolonies, in which the density of ants is extremely high. Dramatic increases in supercolony formation began in the mid to late 1990s in several locations. The effect of the supercolonies is that the Yellow Crazy Ant may become the numerically dominant consumer on both the forest floor and in the canopy (O'Dowd et al. 1999, O'Dowd et al. 2003). Supercolonies range in size from several hectares to several hundred hectares, and at the height of their infestation occupied 28% of the total rainforest area on Christmas Island (James 2005).

It is currently not known what impact the Yellow Crazy Ant has on the Christmas Island Pipistrelle. However, evidence indicates that the continuing spread of the ant would have deleterious consequences for the long-term viability of the species. The Yellow Crazy Ant has been recorded preying on mammals elsewhere, such as newborn pigs, dogs, cats, rabbits and rats (for examples, see Haines et al. 1994; Lewis et al. 1976). The Christmas Island Pipistrelle is known to be attacked and killed by the ant: there is a record of an individual in a harp trap dying as a result of Yellow Crazy Ant attack in 1998 (Lumsden et al. 1999). Bats contacted by Yellow Crazy Ants that are not killed directly are likely to suffer reduced fitness due to exposure from sprayed formic acid leading to blindness and physiological stress (O'Dowd et al. 1999).

All the roosts located in 1998 and 2005 were in areas that were devoid of supercolonies at the time. The majority of roosts were situated under exfoliating bark on the trunks of trees. These roost locations are directly in the path of columns of ants travelling from nests on the ground to the canopy where they forage (O'Dowd et al. 1999). Consequently, such roost sites are likely to be readily accessed and investigated by Yellow Crazy Ants. Some roost sites may also be potentially usurped by ants nesting in canopy or mid-strata tree hollows. It is likely that in areas infested by Yellow Crazy Ant, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle would be forced to select alternative roosts, where available. Such roosts may not provide appropriate structural characteristics to afford shelter from adverse weather conditions or predators, or provide the appropriate thermal microclimate.

Although the proliferation of the Yellow Crazy Ant in recent years is likely to have had direct and indirect effects on the Pipistrelle, the ants are unlikely to be the primary cause of the current decline, as the decline had already commenced before the Yellow Crazy Ants had a population explosion. Further, the stronghold of the Pipistrelle in the west of the island corresponds with the location of the majority of the ant super colonies. An aerial baiting program led by the Crazy Ant Steering Committee and Parks Australia North has resulted in the destruction of supercolonies at all sites baited and has resulted in a 98% reduction in numbers (Green 2002; Kemp 2003).

Predation and/or disturbance by the Giant Centipede (Scolapendra morsitans)
Giant Centipedes are believed to have been introduced to Christmas Island when it was first settled. Andrews (1900) observed individuals arriving in shipments of coconut frond thatching, and by 1907 it was abundant (Andrews 1909). It is currently widespread across the island and extremely abundant (James 2005).

The Giant Centipede is arboreal as well as terrestrial, and hence could readily access the Pipistrelles roosts causing either disturbance or direct injury from biting. They are very aggressive and their bite is extremely painful to humans and has been recorded causing the paralysis of the leg of a domestic duck (James 2005). Non-flying young left in the roost at night while the females forage would be particularly vulnerable.

Predation by endemic predators
The Christmas Island Pipistrelle has not been recorded as a prey item of the Christmas Island Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus natalis ) or Christmas Island Hawk-Owl (Ninox natalis) (Hill and Lill 1998). However, it is possible that both species may opportunistically prey on the Pipistrelle. The relationship between the Pipistrelle and these potential natural predators is not likely to have altered recently, and hence they are not considered to be the cause of the recent decline.

Habitat loss
The Christmas Island Pipistrelle is a rainforest-dependent species that requires primary rainforest for roosting sites. The extensive clearfelling of primary rainforest for phosphate mining has reduced the roosting habitat available for the species. While opening up parts of the rainforest may have increased the area available as foraging habitat, for most insectivorous bats roosting habitat is generally more restricted and limiting than foraging habitat. Hence it is expected that a population decline was experienced by the species in the years of intensive clearing for phosphate mining.

Habitat loss is not considered to be the cause of the recent decline in distribution and abundance as there was no clearing of primary rainforest during the time of decline in the species (clearing of primary rainforest ceased in 1987). However any additional loss of habitat may compound the other factors that are impacting on the species and are likely to be more influential now that the species has been reduced to lower population size and is in decline.

Proposals currently under consideration to clear primary rainforest on vacant crown land may provide additional pressure on remaining Christmas Island Pipistrelle populations and/or reduce suitable habitat available for the long-term recovery of the species. In addition, the removal of secondary regrowth during phosphate mining may adversely affect foraging habitats.

Habitat alteration
In the 1960s drill lines were bulldozed across the island at 120 m intervals for phosphate mining exploration. This resulted in the clearing of 354 separate lines with a total length of 506 km (Lumsden et al. 1999). The Christmas Island Pipistrelle is an edge specialist targeting forest ecotones and gaps within the rainforest canopy. In 1984 Tidemann (1985) commonly observed bats flying along open drill lines. By the mid-1990s, the combination of storm damage and the regeneration of vegetation along many of the drill lines resulted in the loss of this temporary foraging niche. The loss of this habitat may have caused a local reduction in population numbers. It does not, however, account for the apparent abundance of this bat at first settlement (Andrews 1900) or the westward contraction in range of the pipistrelle.

Loss of roost sites
Although not likely to be the primary cause in the decline of this species, a factor that could now be having a serious impact on the remaining population, is the loss of roost sites, in particular maternity roosts. Maternity roosts are typically under loose bark on dead trees. Seven maternity roosts were located in December 2005 (Lumsden et al. 2007). Within four months, four of these seven trees (57%) had fallen over (D. James pers. comm; Lumsden & Schulz unpublished data), resulting in the loss of those roosts. In addition, even if the trees remain standing, the loose bark is currently falling off, resulting in the loss of the roost site.

The majority of the remaining individuals appear to be roosting in a small area in the west of the island (the Dales). Searches of this area have revealed only low densities of dead trees of the preferred roost tree species (Tristiropsis acutangula). These appear to be at a similar stage of decay, suggesting that they may have been killed in a single event, such as a cyclone, some years ago. It is currently not clear why the female Pipistrelles are selecting to roost under bark on dead trees rather than in tree hollows in live trees which would appear to offer more protection for the young and would have a much greater longevity. Often species of microbat that roost under loose bark in the non-breeding season, shift to tree hollows to give birth to their young (Kunz & Lumsden 2003). It is thought that some threatening process is acting to make tree hollows less suitable, while not affecting roosts under bark. One possible suggestion is that there are many escape routes from potential predators if roosting under loose bark, whereas there is usually only one exit from a hollow.

Prey availability
Unknown factors may be altering the densities of prey available to the Christmas Island Pipistrelle. Preliminary dietary studies have indicated a range of flying invertebrates are taken as prey items. Further investigations, however, are required to determine if the species is an opportunistic feeder or shows dietary specialisation, and if this varies throughout the year. Yellow Crazy Ant supercolonies have resulted in the localised reduction of invertebrate diversity and abundance. Alteration to flying insect numbers may result in reduced breeding success of the Pipistrelle, leading to a reduction in population size. However, insect abundance remains high across the island and insectivorous birds are common across the island, suggesting that there has not been a collapse in the food base (James 2005).

Climatic conditions
Cyclones have been documented to severely impact bats on islands (Craig et al. 1994, Gannon & Willig 1994, Rodriquez-Duran & Vazquez 2001). A severe storm in March 1988 damaged significant areas of primary rainforest. The impact of this natural event on the roosting and foraging areas of the pipistrelle is unknown.

The effects of drought as experienced in recent years on the Christmas Island Pipistrelle are unknown. It is likely that such conditions restrict prey numbers and may influence the thermal properties of roosts resulting in a population decline. Although forest fires are uncommon on the island, during recent dry periods in 1994 and 1997, fires occurred in terrace rainforest. The effects of forest fire on the Christmas Island Pipistrelle are unknown, but may result in direct adverse impacts due to the loss of roost sites (particularly exfoliating bark on tree trunks), and indirectly by affecting invertebrate populations.

Vehicle-related mortality
The Christmas Island Pipistrelle commonly forages along roads from close to ground level to above canopy height within and along the ecotone of primary rainforest and secondary rainforest regrowth (Lumsden & Cherry 1997, Lumsden et al. 1999; Tidemann 1985). Small rainforest bat species are known to be the victims of roadkills elsewhere (Schulz 2000). Currently the incidence of vehicle-related mortality is unknown. Although not considered a major cause of mortality, increased night-time traffic levels along roadways may result in an increase in vehicle-related mortality, especially in the western section of the island, due to the construction of the Immigration Reception and Processing Centre. If population numbers were high, deaths due to vehicles would probably be inconsequential. However, as numbers decrease, any additional deaths have a greater impact.

Although there is no evidence for disease in the Christmas Island Pipistrelle population the possibility that the decline in the species is due to an epidemic resulting from an introduced pathogen cannot be ruled out. It is believed that the extinction of the two native species of rats on Christmas Island was due to a pathogen brought to the island by the introduced Black Rat (Pickering & Norris 1996). There was no obvious external sign of ill health in the Pipistrelles caught during the 1994 or 1998 studies.

To investigate if disease or some form of ill-health was impacting the species, a study on the health status was undertaken in 2005 (R. Ashton, L. Lumsden and M. Schulz, unpublished data). The overall impression of the 52 individuals trapped was that they were in extremely good condition. All had high body weights, there were no obvious external signs of disease and the majority of the females were breeding. Of the biological samples collected, all were normal, with the exception of the white blood cell counts. These were lower than for other species of similar sized microbats, however the significance of this finding is unknown.

Decreasing population size
Current evidence suggests that the Christmas Island Pipistrelle is declining rapidly in both distribution and numbers. A small population size increases the risk of extinction through inbreeding depression and stochastic events (Caughley & Sinclair 1994).

The following recovery actions were listed in the National recovery plan for the Christmas Island Pipistrelle Pipistrellus murrayi (Schulz & Lumsden 2004). Progress that has been made on these actions since the plan was published is provided from James (2005 pers.comm.) and Lumsen and colleagues (2007).

Action 1: Assess population and distribution trends in the Christmas Island Pipistrelle and establish long-term monitoring programs
Progress: Extensive monitoring of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle has been conducted in recent years by Parks Australia North as part of the Biodiversity Monitoring Programme (James 2004, 2005).

Action 2: Determine roosting requirements, investigating seasonal and distributional differences
Progress: A study on the roosting requirements of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle was undertaken in December 2005 (Lumsden & Schulz unpublished data). A limited number of maternity roosts were located in the remaining core roosting area in the Dales region. A small number of male roosts were also located. Extensive attempts were made to trap individuals on the eastern limit of the distribution, and although a small number of calls were recorded on the detectors in this area, no individuals were trapped. Hence, no roost sites could be located.

Due to concern over the rapid loss of maternity roosts due to dead trees falling over, Parks Australia North has installed bat boxes in the core roosting area in an attempt to provide alternative roost sites (D. James 2005 pers. comm).

Action 3: Determine the impact of the Common Wolf Snake on roosts, and if considered to impact on pipistrelles, develop management actions to reduce the predation risk
Progress: Extensive reptiles surveys have been undertaken by Parks Australia North (James 2004) which included mapping the distribution of the Wolf Snake. Approximately 100 snakes have been collected and are being dissected to examine the prey taken by this species. To date no Pipistrelles have been recorded in these stomach contents (D. James pers. comm.).

Action 4: Determine the impact of the Nankeen Kestrel, and if found to prey on pipistrelles, develop management actions to reduce the impact.
Progress: Parks Australia North have surveyed Nankeen Kestrels and mapped their distribution across the island. M. Schulz (unpublished data) conducted extensive foraging observations on the kestrel and collected a large number of regurgitated pellets. These contained predominantly large insects and the remains of swiftlets, but no Pipistrelles.

Action 5: Identify primary foraging sites away from ecotones and roads
Progress: Parks Australia North have commenced surveys to investigate the vertical and horizontal distribution of Pipistrelles at foraging sites, including the use of the top of the canopy (D. James 2005 pers. comm.).

Action 6: Investigate dietary specialisation as a contributing factor to the current status of Christmas Island Pipistrelle.
Progress: Parks Australia North are currently undertaking an extensive study of the insect availability on the island (D. James 2005 pers. comm.), and will analyse faecal pellets from the Pipistrelles as they become available.

Action 7: Clarify the taxonomic status of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle.
Progress: No progress to date. This action is considered a low priority.

Action 8: Continue active management for the control of Yellow Crazy Ant supercolonies
Progress: Parks Australia North is conducting regular monitoring of ant distribution and density. Any developing supercolonies within the remaining range of the pipistrelle are baited immediately (D. James 2005 pers. comm.).

Action 9: Increased protection of known and potential habitat outside the National Park
Progress: Parks Australia North are currently negotiating with Christmas Island Phosphate in an attempt to protect key foraging habitat that is within mining leases to be mined in the near future.

Action 10: Assess the impact of phosphate stockpile removal on the Christmas Island Pipistrelle
Progress: Discussions are currently underway between Parks Australia North and Christmas Island Phosphate with respect to the removal of phosphate stockpiles.

Action 11: Guidelines to reduce vehicle-related mortality
Progress: Wildlife mortality surveys are being undertaken by Parks Australia North. No Pipistrelles have been found dead on the roads, however, road killed bats would likely be scavenged quickly. The issue has been raised with Christmas Island Phosphate and the construction company of the Immigration Reception and Processing Centre to reduce the potential for mortality due to vehicles.

Action 12: Review the conservation status of the species
Progress: Recent research has indicated a continuing rapid decline in both the distribution and abundance of the species. A nomination for listing the species as Critically Endangered was approved September 2006.

Trial Captive Breeding Program
In February 2009, the Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts announced funding for a trial program on a closely related species, Pipistrellus westralis.The objective is to demonstrate safe capture methods and to identify optimal husbandry requirements of the species. The Director of National Parks is preparing for a potential captive breeding program on Christmas Island, in the event that the mainland trial is successful (Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts 2009).

The following studies have been undertaken on this species:

  • Andrews (1900) described the species.
  • Tidemann (1985) undertook the first ecological study, examining distribution and abundance.
  • Lumsden and Cherry (1997) undertook a preliminary study of the status and ecology of the species in 1994, which re-assessed the status of the species.
  • Lumsden and colleagues (1999) conducted an extensive study on the distribution, abundance, habitat utilisation and ecology of the species. This study documented further declines and identified potential threats.
  • Bamford and Bamford (2002) conducted an environmental impact assessment in relation to infrastructure development, which included surveys for the Pipistrelle.
  • Corbett and colleagues (2003) conducted an environmental impact assessment in relation to mining on the island, which included surveys for the Pipistrelle, and re-sampled sites established by Lumsden and Cherry (1997) and Lumsden and colleagues (1999).
  • The Christmas Island Biodiversity Monitoring Programme, Parks Australia North Christmas Island, undertook extensive monitoring of the distribution and abundance of the Pipistrelle between 2004–2006, and re-assessed potential threats (James 2004, 2005)
  • Lumsden, Schulz, Ashton and Middleton (unpublished data) undertook a study in December 2005 investigating potential threats to the survival of the species, including examining roosting requirements and the health of the population.

A National Recovery Plan for the Christmas Island Pipistrelle Pipistrellus murrayi (Schulz – Lumsden 2004) has been adopted for the species.

The Christmas Island National Park Management Plan (Third) (Environment Australia, 2002) also identifies management actions for the species.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate change altering atmosphere/hydrosphere temperatures, rainfall patterns and/or frequency of severe weather events Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Habitat loss/conversion/quality decline/degradation Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Indirect Ecosystem Effects:Restricted geographical distribution (area of occupancy and extent of occurrence) Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Rattus rattus (Black Rat, Ship Rat) Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition, predation and/or habitat degradation caused by Tramp Ants Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Predation, competition, habitat degradation and/or spread of pathogens by introduced species Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Presence of pathogens and resulting disease Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation by birds Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Species Stresses:Species Disturbance:Inappropriate disturbance regime Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].
Transportation and Service Corridors:Roads and Railroads:Vehicle related mortality Commonwealth Listing Advice on Pipistrellus murrayi (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2006dq) [Listing Advice].

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Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Pipistrellus murrayi in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:59:41 +1000.