The Bats of Kenya Project

Straddling the equator in East Africa, Kenya is an economically impoverished but megadiverse country.  Many challenges confront its national development, among them a burgeoning human population, persistent drought and climate change, and a too-small cadre of scientists and resource managers. Since 1998, The Field Museum has collaborated with two Kenyan scientific agencies--Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the National Museums of Kenya (NMK)--to solve the nation's scientific challenges and train personnel. One of these challenges is the management of Kenya's native bat populations. Bats represent fully one-quarter of Kenya's >400 mammal species. Scientists are only now realizing the important ecological services provided by bats.  In addition to maintaining healthy ecosystems through pollination of flowers, seed dispersal, and consuming herbivorous insects, bats are crucial -- if usually overlooked -- partners in modern agriculture.

Richness of African bat faunas by country (from Patterson & Webala, 2012), showing the remarkable richness of East African faunas (dark bars).

A recent study (Boyles JG, Cryan PM, McCracken GF, Kunz TH [2011] Economic importance of bats in agriculture. Science 332, 41-42) estimated that consumption of insects by American bats is worth $3.7 to 50 billion annually in avoided pesticides and crop losses.  Because Kenyan agriculture is predominantly subsistence-based, its reliance on natural pest control by bats may be even more crucial than our own.  Most bat species known from Kenya are insect-eaters, but their abundance, roosts, habits, and diets are unknown.  So too are their possible roles as reservoirs or vectors of human disease.  Diseases like rabies, Marburg, Ebola, and Shimoni are all known from Kenyan bats - this is a growing concern as Kenya's economic development brings people closer to wildlife.

Myotis welwitschii from Kisumu Impala Sanctuary, Jan 2012 (photo by Bruce Patterson)

In August 2011, Kenyan scientist Paul Webala (now a lecturer at Karatina University College, a branch of Moi University), WKU professor Carl Dick, and I began a three-year program to survey the bats of Kenya.  This work has three immediate purposes: 1) to document the distribution, status, and ecology of Kenya's rich bat fauna, 2) to give KWS insights into managing an important and economically valuable resource, and 3) to create a vouchered call library for bats in Kenya that will enable KWS and research scientists to remotely monitor bats.  In the course of this work, we are expanding Dr. Webala's training in systematics and genetics to enhance his proficiency as a mentor for the next generation of Kenyan scientists.  In April and May 2012, Paul and Ruth Keeru -- a technician at National Museums of Kenya -- came to Chicago for advanced training.  Initially funded by the Field Museum's Council on Africa and Bud and Onnolee Trapp, the JRS Biodiversity Foundation recently awarded Webala, Patterson, and Dave Waldien (Bat Conservation International) a $90,000 grant to continue this project.

Carl Dick (left), Paul Webala (right) and I outside Lirhanda Hill Cave, Kakamega Forest (Jan 2012)

Paul and I just finished a key and identification guide to the 145 species of bats known from East Africa (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda).  The guide will be published in Fieldiana: Life Sciences in Fall 2012.

Paul Webala and Bruce Patterson outside Lion Hill Cave (photo by Carl Dick)

Some videos of our fieldwork

Collecting bat flies with Carl


Carl Dick picking ectoparasites from a giant mastiff bat

A giant bat fly, Penicellidia

Bat vocalizations in Kenya

A nycteribiid bat fly (Penicellidia sp.) on a Hipposideros bat in Nakuru, Kenya (photo by Bruce Patterson, Aug 2011)

Project Publications

Morse, S.F., K.J. Olival, M. Kosoy, S. Billeter, B.D. Patterson, C.W. Dick & K.Dittmar. 2012. Global distribution and genetic diversity of Bartonella in bat flies (Hippoboscoidea, Streblidae, Nycteribiidae). Infection, Genetics and Evolution DOI

Patterson, B.D., & P.W. Webala.  In press.  Keys to the bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera) of East Africa. Fieldiana: Life and Earth Sciences.