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ESR 8:93-115 (2009)  -  DOI:

Carpe noctem: the importance of bats as bioindicators

Gareth Jones1,*, David S. Jacobs2, Thomas H. Kunz3, Michael R. Willig4, Paul A. Racey5

1School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK
2Zoology Department, University of Cape Town, Rondesbosch 7701, Cape Town, South Africa
3Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA
4Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269-4210, USA
5School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen AB24 2TN, UK

ABSTRACT: The earth is now subject to climate change and habitat deterioration on unprecedented scales. Monitoring climate change and habitat loss alone is insufficient if we are to understand the effects of these factors on complex biological communities. It is therefore important to identify bioindicator taxa that show measurable responses to climate change and habitat loss and that reflect wider-scale impacts on the biota of interest. We argue that bats have enormous potential as bioindicators: they show taxonomic stability, trends in their populations can be monitored, short- and long-term effects on populations can be measured and they are distributed widely around the globe. Because insectivorous bats occupy high trophic levels, they are sensitive to accumulations of pesticides and other toxins, and changes in their abundance may reflect changes in populations of arthropod prey species. Bats provide several ecosystem services, and hence reflect the status of the plant populations on which they feed and pollinate as well as the productivity of insect communities. Bat populations are affected by a wide range of stressors that affect many other taxa. In particular, changes in bat numbers or activity can be related to climate change (including extremes of drought, heat, cold and precipitation, cyclones and sea level rise), deterioration of water quality, agricultural intensification, loss and fragmentation of forests, fatalities at wind turbines, disease, pesticide use and overhunting. There is an urgent need to implement a global network for monitoring bat populations so their role as bioindicators can be used to its full potential.

KEY WORDS: Chiroptera · Indicator species · Environmental stressors

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Cite this article as: Jones G, Jacobs DS, Kunz TH, Willig MR, Racey PA (2009) Carpe noctem: the importance of bats as bioindicators. Endang Species Res 8:93-115.

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