“Phylogeny, traits and biodiversity of a Neotropical bat assemblage: Close relatives show similar responses to local deforestation”

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Hannah K. Frank, Luke O. Frishkoff, Chase D. Mendenhall, Gretchen C. Daily, and Elizabeth A. Hadly

Bat relatives show similar response to local deforestation: big bats are the winners

A bat’s evolutionary history predicts its response to deforestation

Greater spear-nosed bat (Phyllostomus hastatus).
(Credit: Jon Flanders)

Researchers at Stanford University have been studying how bats survive in areas where humans and wildlife collide and coexist for years in order to understand how deforestation impacts the fates of whole groups of organisms. Every year from 2009 to 2013, researchers captured and identified bats in coffee fields, forest fragments, and a forest reserve in southern Costa Rica. By statistically correcting for differences in species’ detectability between forest and agriculture, they found that species responded to deforestation at extremely local scales (~50 m), and that evolutionarily close relatives had similar responses to deforestation.

Roosting female Carollia sp. individuals with their offspring.
(Credit: Alison Ravenscraft; previously appearing with “Anthropogenic impacts on Costa Rican bat parasitism are sex specific” by Hannah K. Frank, Chase D. Mendenhall, Seth D. Judson, Gretchen C. Daily, and Elizabeth A. Hadly, 2016, Ecology and Evolution 6:4898–4909, CC BY 4.0)

Few species traits explained bats’ ability to use human-dominated areas, although bigger bats tended to do better than their smaller relatives, likely because large bats are bad at maneuvering through dense tropical forests. Bats play an important role in ecosystem function by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and depleting insects, so declines in bat populations could cascade into other systems. This work introduces a new framework for using evolutionary relationships to hone predictions and evaluate the impacts of humans on wildlife in order to aid in species conservation. Read the Article