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Home arrow Environment arrow Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World

Genetic Consequences

Tropical taxa are generally underrepresented in landscape genetic studies (Storfer et al. 2010). Bats are no exception, as only few studies have assessed how they are affected by anthropogenic habitat loss and fragmentation at the genetic level (Fig. 4.3b). Meyer et al. (2009) studied populations of two Neotropical bats in fragments that were isolated by a water matrix and detected significant population differentiation that matched the species' relative mobility. In contrast to the more mobile canopy frugivore, Uroderma bilobatum, population subdivision in the understory frugivore, C. perspicillata, showed a significant effect of fragmentation and isolation by distance, as well as reduced genetic diversity on islands relative to mainland populations. Also employing mitochondrial DNA sequence data, Ripperger et al. (2013) documented small-scale genetic differentiation for another small understory frugivore, Dermanura watsoni, in fragments embedded in a matrix dominated by agriculture. Landscape connectivity as measured by the amount of suitable habitat surrounding forest patches was most strongly correlated with genetic variation when quantified within small-scale (400 m) landscape buffers, likely reflecting the reduced mobility of this species. Importantly, empirical levels of genetic diversity in fragments were best explained by past rather than present habitat conditions. Because anthropogenic habitat fragmentation is recent on evolutionary timescales, populations may not show immediate genetic responses to fragmentation, highlighting the importance of considering time lags in these scenarios.

In a microsatellite study of three codistributed insectivorous bat species in forest fragments in peninsular Malaysia, Struebig et al. (2011) observed area-related declines in genetic diversity in Kerivoula papillosa, the species that was most sensitive to fragmentation based on ecological characteristics (low vagility, low population density, tree-cavity-roosting habit). Based on the genetic-area relationship observed for K. papillosa, the authors estimated that preserving the genetic diversity of this species at levels similar to those of intact forest would require extensive areas (>10,000 ha), several times larger than necessary to maintain comparable levels of species richness. In view of the fact that most forest patches in heavily fragmented production landscapes across Southeast Asia are much smaller, it is evident that maintaining genetic diversity of the dozens of forest specialist species that exhibit trait combinations similar to those of K. papillosa constitutes a substantial conservation challenge (Struebig et al. 2011). Roosting ecology and social organization may generally be important predictors of genetic structuring in insectivorous Old World bats. Rossiter et al. (2012) found that less vagile, treeroosting species exhibit reduced gene flow, even across continuous intact rain forest, compared to more wide-ranging colonial cave-roosting species, indicating that the former should be disproportionately affected by landscape-scale habitat fragmentation.

Only weak genetic population subdivision was demonstrated for Artibeus lituratus, an abundant, highly mobile, and generalist frugivore, in a study in fragmented Atlantic forest (McCulloch et al. 2013). High levels of contemporary population connectivity in an abundant and widespread seed disperser like

A. lituratus may buffer numerous plant species in Neotropical forests that rely on dispersal services of this bat species to counterbalance the negative impacts of deforestation.

In summary, the available evidence suggests, both in the New and in the Old World tropics, and irrespective of fragment–matrix contrast, that some bat species may be vulnerable to genetic erosion as a result of small-scale habitat fragmentation. Further, studies indicate that susceptibility in this context is linked to individual species traits such as mobility or roosting habit.

Key research needs:

• Increasing research on a broader range of species with different ecological and life-history traits, ideally using high-resolution genetic markers such as microsatellites or single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

• Studies that quantify the extent to which frugivorous and nectarivorous bat spe-

cies are capable of maintaining gene flow among plants in fragmented tropical landscapes.

 
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