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

Conclusion and Future Directions

Human population growth, land use change and habitat loss have led to massive habitat alterations and destruction, particularly of water sources in arid regions. The availability of water (temporary/permanent) appears to have a strong positive influence on species of bats richness and activity. This suggests that large temporary pools are important for the conservation of bats in arid environments. A reduction in the availability of temporary pools, due to intensification of arid conditions, is expected to predominantly affect species of bats that forage over water, and will most likely increase interspecific competition for foraging space above the pools. These problems are likely be exacerbated in species of bats that are able to extend into arid areas because of their association with humans. Studies on the distribution of bats in drylands on a large scale should be the focus of future research to understand how climate change and introduction of artificial bodies of water effect species distribution, activity and richness. Studies are strongly needed in arid regions to understand the best and most efficient way to provide safe artificial water sources for bats that can mitigate increased incidences of drought due to climate change and, in some cases, the total loss of available water, especially in the more temperate arid regions with shorter growing seasons. For example, placement of artificial water sources near maternity roosts is instrumental in arid temperate areas with shorter growing seasons (Adams 2010). However, the introduction of artificial bodies of water may promote invasion by non-native species and range expansion of others, leading to resource competition. In regions of Europe likely to become water-stressed because of human induced climate changes, bats may be affected as they may lack the physiological means to cope with water limitation (Sherwin et al. 2013).

Africa, as well as other arid areas such as the Negev and the Mongolian deserts, has a high diversity of bats but compared to other areas of the world its bat fauna has been little studied. Fundamental research is most needed throughout Africa and other arid zones on how often bats need to drink and whether this varies across species, geographically and seasonally. Comparative studies on bats with distributions restricted to arid regions and species that have populations in mesic and arid regions would be particularly informative in this regard. For example, the diversity of renal capacities and habitat use amongst African species of bats of the same family (Happold and Happold 1988), and the emergence of robust family level phylogenies (e.g. Stoffberg et al. 2010) provide an excellent opportunity to study the evolution of renal form and function in African bats in an ecological context. Special focus should be placed on research determining the extent to which African bats are reliant on artificial water sources. Such research should target arid zone species of bats, especially those species that live in close association with humans because these are the species likely to be impacted by insufficient or polluted water sources.

Research is also needed on whether all water sources are used for both drinking and foraging and how bats respond to decreases in water quality as a result of pollutants. Do certain species of bats avoid drinking from low quality bodies of water as shown by Korine et al. (2015)? Would bats still use polluted bodies of water for feeding but not for drinking? If so, how do they detect low quality water, do they do so before they are adversely affected by it and do they have alternative water sources? How are desert-dwelling bats affected by pollutants in water or by waterborne toxins and pollutants in the insect fauna, and are such bats able to deal with such pollutants physiologically?

Although least is known about bats and water in sub-Sahara Africa, studies thus far in other regions of the world are in their infancy in terms of understanding the long-term effects of decreased water availability on bat and other wild populations. Due to human destruction of wetlands and riparian habitats as well as unsustainable human population growth that more and more is utilizing greater amounts of fresh water, availability of fresh water to sustain wildlife populations are reaching critically low levels, especially in areas suffering from extended droughts due to human-induced climate disruption. Because water is a key ingredient of all life, focus on this topic needs to increase and because bats act as 'canaries in a global coal mine,' studies concerning bats and water are key to better management of water resources in natural and artificial areas.

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