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Biases in Our Understanding of Responses of Tropical Bats to Habitat Alteration

The collated literature revealed substantial geographic and taxonomic biases in the current understanding of tropical bat responses to anthropogenic disturbance. Studies covered 34 distinct study landscapes in 21 countries. Despite a general increase in the number of studies over the last 20 years (Fig. 4.1), most research has been undertaken in the New World tropics (96 studies), with research in Southeast Asia and Australasia lagging far behind (19 studies) and studies in

Fig. 4.1 Number of publications on the effects of fragmentation, logging, or disturbance on tropical bats based on a systematic search of the literature. There is a general increase in publications over the last 20 years (linear model fit, Rad=j0.55, p < 0.001). Data for 2013 represent an underestimate as the literature search did not include the entire year, and therefore, they were not considered in the model fit

Fig. 4.2 Map illustrating the geographic distribution of research effort based on 117 studies of bats in anthropogenically modified landscapes. Sizes of orange circles represent the number of studies per site, where a site is defined as a particular study landscape. Colors of tropical countries represent the number of studies based on the pan-tropical analysis of the impact of disturbance and land conversion on birds, mammals, arthropods, and plants by Gibson et al. (2011)

Africa being rare (2 studies; Fig. 4.2). Geographic variation in this research effort (Fig. 4.2) broadly parallels the pattern reported for multiple taxa across the tropics (Gibson et al. 2011). A few notable differences include a disproportionately high number of bat studies in Mexico and low number of studies in Indonesia compared to other taxa. A large taxonomic bias therefore characterizes our understanding of disturbance effects on tropical bats as a consequence of the prevalence of studies in the Neotropics. With a few exceptions (Estrada et al. 2004; Estrada Villegas

Fig. 4.3 Number of studies by region (Neotropics [n = 96 studies] vs. Paleotropics [n = 21 studies]) based on a type of disturbance or habitat modification and b type of response. Studies in many cases, especially for (a), matched more than one of the broad categories and were counted multiple times

et al. 2010; Williams-Guillén and Perfecto 2011), New World studies focused on the species-rich Phyllostomidae, in turn largely reflecting the use of mist nets to capture bats. Phyllostomids are easily sampled with mist nets and dominate studies. In contrast, non-phyllostomids are underrepresented in samples based on mist netting. Although acoustic methods hold much promise for sampling non-phyllostomid and non-pteropodid bats, considerable difficulties remain in the wider implementation of these techniques in tropical countries, including the lack of call libraries, taxonomic uncertainty, and practical challenges of tropical climates (Harrison et al. 2012). As a result, acoustic sampling has not yet been employed intensively in landscape-scale studies of tropical bats (see also Cunto and Bernard 2012). Finally, a considerable bias exists with respect to studied aspects of fragmentation and disturbance. Comparatively few studies have targeted bat responses to logging or agroforestry (Fig. 4.3a). The vast majority of studies evaluated responses at the population or assemblage level. Far fewer have examined the consequences of anthropogenic disturbance for the provision of ecosystem services by bats. Genetic, physiological, and behavioral effects remain poorly explored, as do effects on disease dynamics associated with bat hosts (Fig. 4.3b).

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