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

Introduction

Global biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate as a result of environmental change and human activity. Like other organisms, bats are at risk and many populations and species are threatened. As of 2013, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List recognized 81 bat species as Near Threatened, 95 as Vulnerable, 51 as Endangered, 26 as Critically Endangered, and 5 as Extinct (IUCN 2014). It is clear that decisions must be made now to combat ongoing loss of species and populations. However, appropriate management decisions cannot be made without a marriage among conservation biologists, taxonomists, and legislators. Before conservation strategies can be implemented, the species composition of a locality must be well understood; otherwise, the effectiveness of any conservation effort cannot be accurately quantified.

Clearly defining species boundaries—while often difficult—is crucial to basic research and conservation. Some level of agreement on the organisms and populations considered part of any species is necessary for studying and tracking the health of organisms and ecosystems. Taxonomy—the description, naming, and classification of organisms—provides this necessary framework. Taxonomy, along with classification, often is conflated with systematics (Schuh 2000), which is more properly defined as the study of the diversification and evolutionary relationships of organisms through time. Despite often being used interchangeably, they are distinctly different, though systematic research includes recognition of taxa (i.e., taxonomy) as a necessary ingredient to reconstructing the past. Phylogenies produced by systematists provide a crucial foundation for examining biological phenomena and hypotheses, such as adaptive radiation or biogeographic scenarios, some of which are important for informing conservation decisions. Phylogenies help predict where biodiversity hotspots may be located, inform how distinct populations may be from one another, and identify unique lineages that preserve critical genetic diversity. Without systematics, other aspects of natural history lose their historical framework; and without taxonomy, systematics loses its basic operational unit. This chapter will demonstrate the many ways in which taxonomy and systematics have contributed to past conservation efforts and how they will continue to enrich protection of bat species globally.

 
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