Toward a Global Network of Networks
Do We Need a Global Network?
A global network of networks can certainly build social capital among bat researchers and conservationists, and facilitate knowledge transfer and capacity building. Moreover, the existing networks are diverse, collectively holding knowledge and skills that range from taxonomy to advocacy. Connectivity among networks could rapidly increase functional diversity, resilience, and adaptability of both individual networks and a global network of networks. It could also provide a platform to develop bridging ties to peripheral actors with greater expertise and skills in key areas, notably lobbying and environmental education. Such a metanetwork could also provide a venue for discussion of issues at the global level and for explicit requests for assistance with critical issues. This assistance could be in terms of technical or strategic advice, or collaborative projects that combine resources for the common goal. But is there a need for global agency? We suggest that there are several sets of circumstances in which a global network might facilitate conservation efforts.
First, some issues are genuinely of global concern or can benefit from prioritization efforts at the global scale. For example, habitat loss is a global issue, and the use of standardized, objective criteria to identify critical biodiversity areas worldwide can galvanize and support protection efforts, and provide a basis for monitoring. The Important Bird Areas (IBAs) Program, initiated by BirdLife International over 30 years ago, now comprises a network of over 10,000 IBAs and has had a major impact on the development of protected areas worldwide to ensure sustainable bird populations (BirdLife International 2008). RELCOM recently launched a similar program for bats in Latin America—Areas and Sites of Importance for the Conservation of Bats (Areas or Sitios para la Conservación (AICOMs/SICOMs) (Aguirre and Barquez 2013) and to date have identified 60 Areas and Sites, including 17 binational AICOMs. A coordinated initiative by a global network to develop this program worldwide could reap similar benefits for bat diversity, particularly if the network develops mechanisms to support and monitor protection of the sites after designation. Similarly, global priority-setting at the species level requires coordinated effort. While this remains the remit of the IUCN, problems arise integrating national evaluations with the global effort. Although the IUCN provides guidelines for the application of Red List criteria at regional and national levels (IUCN 2012), the guidelines and criteria are arguably difficult to apply where data are sparse, as is the case for many bat species. This has led to a proliferation of different national methods, even within regions [e.g., Aguirre et al. 2009—Bolivia, Sánchez et al. 2007—Mexico, US Endangered Species Act (ESA 1973, as amended)], which are difficult to integrate within and across regions. A global network could discuss and develop common criteria to establish the conservation status of bats at local and national scales, and provide a clearer link or integration to the global IUCN Red List assessments.
Second, several conservation issues that originated in certain areas are now “going global”—knowledge gained by regional networks could be vital for rapid responses in other parts of the world. For example, the impact of wind energy installations on bat populations has hitherto been of most concern and best studied in North America and Europe (Arnett et al. 2015). However, 103 countries used wind power on a commercial basis in 2013, with the most dynamic markets with highest growth rates in Latin America, eastern Europe, and for the first time Africa (WWEA 2014), drawing many networks into the development of guidelines to minimize bat fatalities. A global network allows for the rapid synthesis and dissemination of expertise and advocacy materials (e.g., white papers/position statements/research summaries of mitigation approaches) to support efforts in areas lacking direct experience of an issue. Similar issues are being (or could be) realized across multiple regions or globally include the role of bats as reservoir hosts in zoonotic infectious diseases (Schneeberger and Voigt 2016), white-nose syndrome (Frick et al. 2015), and hunting of bats (Mildenstein et al. 2016).
Third, a global network secures the diversity of expertise to respond to future threats. It is noteworthy that some of the biggest threats facing bats today were unimagined less than 20 years ago, with no mention in edited volumes (e.g., Kunz and Racey 1998) or action plans (Mickleburgh et al. 1992; Hutson et al. 2001) of mortality at wind installations, white-nose syndrome, or the role of bats in emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) and the attendant consequences for public and government perceptions of bats. We do not know what new threats to bats might emerge in the coming decades, nor whence they might originate. A global network would facilitate coordinated responses and support for regional issues.
Finally, a global network would provide a means for current and emergent critical issues to become widely known and, critically, could act as a single voice to promote bat conservation through global positions on recurrent, widespread issues such as wind installations, habitat loss and the protection of critical sites, EIDs. A unified voice and global position could also be key in local or national issues where governments, resilient to the dogged efforts of the local group, might be swayed by unified international scrutiny or outrage. Many of the regional networks have faced such challenges. For example, in Australia, the ABS is in urgent need of support to keep up with the number and scale of political issues and administrative actions surrounding flying foxes, and it is conceivable that unified global advocacy might have prompted earlier, precautionary, action as the Christmas Island Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi) declined to (presumed) extinction. Some suggestion that international opinion can influence local decisions comes from Mauritius. In 2006, the prime minister of Mauritius was heavily lobbied by British conservationists to void a cull of Pteropus niger, planned to placate fruit farmers. The lobbyists' influence is uncertain as the cull went ahead, but its success was limited by existing, observed, legislation precluding the discharge of firearms after dark.
We believe a global network can play a key role in bat conservation in the coming decades. However, it must retain the personality of each regional network and promote local bat conservation. Based on the effectiveness of polycentric diverse networks outlined above (Sect. 17.3.2), we envisage a global network as a metanetwork of regional networks (Table 17.1) linked by bridging ties among members to generate an emergent, but decentralized global network of networks. To reach this end requires that existing regional networks be supported and strengthened, the establishment of new networks in areas of the world currently not covered, and the development of bridging links across regional networks to provide global coverage.