The Bats of Kenya: assessing the species limits of cryptic species

2013 REU Intern Kyle Reid

KYLE REID

Sophomore Conservation Biology major at Olive Harvey College

REU Mentors: Dr. Bruce Patterson (MacArthur Curator, Zoology/Mammals) and Dr Paul Webala (Research Associate, Zoology/Mammals)

Symposium Presentation Title: The Bats of Kenya: assessing the species limits of cryptic species

Symposium Presentation Abstract: The diversity of mammal fauna in east Africa has captured the interest of biologists for centuries. The world-famous “Big Five” grab the attention of people far and wide. However, hidden in plain sight is a group of animals which offer a treasure trove of evolutionary, ecological, and economic knowledge -- the bat! Bats represent a quarter of Kenya’s >400 mammal species. As one of the few mammalian orders capable of echolocation and the only one capable of true flight, bats quickly specialize and separate to adapt to their environment. Only recently have scientist begun to realize the economic and ecological benefits of bat species. Bats contribute to a healthy ecosystem via pollination of flowers, seed dispersal and consuming herbivorous insects. Consumption of insects in Kenya, where agriculture is subsistence based, may be one of their most important contributions to humanity. Our study gathered and tested morphometric information within the genus Epomorphorus. Using 27 variables and the Epomophorus collection at the Field Museum, we performed univariate and multivariate analysis to discover which measurements were of greatest influence in distinguishing two species. After gathering this information, we compared it with the current species key to confirm or deny the existence of cryptic species. We found that when distinguishing between species with skull morphometrics, skull length and braincase breadth have the biggest impact. However, Epomophorus wahlbergi and Epomophorus haldermanni continue to be separated by non-morphometric features. This project will evolve. With the continued addition of data to the project, we expect to gain further insight into this misunderstood order. Access to new habitats will greatly increase our capability to accurately determine the many forms of the Chiroptera.


Original Project Description: Kenya straddles the equator and mega-diverse, being world-famous for the “Big Five” and other charismatic megafauna.  But a quarter of its mammal species (>100!) are bats, which are known to serve vital ecological roles, including pollination, seed dispersal, and insectivory, and are important to both agriculture and public health. Developed with the help of the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service, The Bats of Kenya will detail the distribution, status, diagnosis, and ecological habits of all these species.  For such a large fauna, determining species limits is perhaps the most challenging task, one aided by analyses in the field (vocalizations and habits), museum (conventional and geometric morphometrics, ectoparasites), and the laboratory (DNA sequences).

Research methods and techniques: Interns will be trained in museum collection management, morphological data collection, specimen preparation, and data analysis.  Interns will be taught to analyze their data on species limits and relationships.  With access to data on vocalizations and ectoparasite collected in the field, interns will test the existence of cryptic (or currently unrecognized) species in this fauna.