Category: Blog


Published: February 24, 2011

Two new bat species described from the Andes of South America

Bruce Patterson, MacArthur Curator of Mammals, Integrative Research Center

In a 2010 publication in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, two new species of broad-nosed bats are described for the very first time. Both bats hail from Andean South America.  Interestingly, both had been collected decades earlier by expeditions from the Field Museum of Natural History (to Peru, led by MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson) and the National Museum of Natural History (to Venezuela, led by Curator Alfred Gardner).  Unrecognized as new species, both series had been identified as the supposedly widespread species Platyrrhinus helleri and stored in the research collections.  It was not until Paúl Velazco, then a graduate student-in-residence at The Field Museum and now a post-doctoral associate of the American Museum of Natural History, began studying them that their differences were recognized. 

Paúl Velazco in Moyobamba, Perú, May 2007.

This discovery, made two decades after the specimens were collected, is not really unusual.  Rather, it has become the rule in systematic mammalogy and other disciplines. It serves as a compelling example of the value of large, encyclopedic reference collections like those at The Field Museum and the Smithsonian. These collections (and others like them) harbor examples of many species and include multiple individuals of each, documenting individual, seasonal, and geographic variation.  Such valuable resources attract researchers from around the world.  Discrimination of closely related forms often requires side-by-side comparisons that are only possible in these major collections.  It is no mistake that these collections have become the world's greatest laboratories for the study of mammalian evolution.

Platyrrhinus masu Velazco 2005 (photo by B.D. Patterson)

Paúl's doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago have transformed our understanding of the diversity of these bats.  Prior to his 2005 monograph in Fieldiana: Zoology, 10 species of Platyrrhinus were recognized.  With the descriptions of Platyrrhinus angustirostris and Platyrrhinus fusciventris in 2010, the number of species known has doubled, to 20!!  All live in the forests of Central and South America.  Phylogenetic analyses by Paúl and Bruce (in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution) show that the species belong to four different lineages.  Although three of these clades are restricted to the lowlands, and the group evidently originated there, most of the species actually belong to the Andean clade.  Molecular data indicates that there has been a recent burst of species-formation in the tropical Andes, where as many as 6 species of broad-nosed bats coexist along a single slope.  Studies on this and other groups are on-going.

Velazco, P.M. 2005. Systematics and phylogenetic relationships of the broad-nosed bats, Genus Platyrrhinus (Chiroptera, Phyllostomidae). Fieldiana: Zoology, new series 105:iv + 1-53. pdf (1.4 Mb)

Velazco, P.M. & B.D. Patterson. 2008. Phylogenetics and biogeography of the broad-nosed bats, Genus Platyrrhinus (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 49:749-759. pdf (1.3 Mb)

Velazco, P.M., A.L. Gardner & B.D. Patterson. 2010. Systematics of the Platyrrhinus helleri complex (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae), with descriptions of two new species.  Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 159:785-812. pdf (1.49 Mb)

Bruce Patterson

I study several topics in evolutionary biology, focusing on the diversification, distribution and conservation of mammals. The breadth of my research is testimony to the facts that no interesting biological questions are ever fully answered and progress towards answering them invariably opens up a variety of others.  Curiosity, opportunity, and a bit of wanderlust have diversified my program and caused it to span two continents.


Density of terrestrial vertebrate species ( Wonder why I study tropical animals?!

For most of my career, I have used museum specimens to study the systematics and biogeography of Neotropical mammals.  Collaborating with scientists and students in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile, I have worked throughout the Andes, Amazonia, as well as Atlantic, Valdivian, and Magellanic Forests. While documenting some of the world's richest and most highly endemic faunas, we regularly discover and describe new taxa of marsupials, rodents, and bats and use them in regional and continental reconstructions of phylogeny and biogeography. The program offers abundant training opportunities for American and Latin American students, both in the lab and in the field.  Beginning in 2011, I started a parallel project on the The Bats of Kenya with colleagues Paul Webala and Carl Dick.  This project is designed to document the distribution and status of more than 100 species of bats that occur in Kenya and to shed light on their ecological roles and current status.

Collecting parasites in the course of these systematic studies led to my interest in host-parasite coevolution.  Ectoparasites recovered from mammals and birds are used to reconstruct the radiation of parasite groups and to assess their distributions across hosts and geography.  These studies identify factors that govern the distribution, abundance, and host specificity of parasites.  Together with Carl Dick (until 2009 a post-doc here at the Museum, now at Western Kentucky University) and Katharina Dittmar (SUNY Buffalo), we have developed a broad range of studies on the ecology, coevolution, and phylogeny of these interesting flies.  Interest in the unstudied ectoparasite communities of African bats helped fuel our collaborations with Kenyan Paul Webala to survey the diverse bat communities of Kenya.        


A Hipposideros bat with an ectoparasitic Penicillidia bat fly

A second, derivative program focuses on host-parasite coevolution.  Ectoparasites recovered from mammal and bird specimens are used to reconstruct the evolutionary radiations of parasite groups and assess their current distributions across hosts and geography, factors governing their distribution, abundance, and host specificity.  Work on bat flies has been developed with Carl Dick (until 2009 a post-doc here at the Museum, but now at Western Kentucky University) and Katharina Dittmar (SUNY Buffalo) on their ecology and phylogeny. With NSF funding, we recently curated the world's largest collection of flies, which now guides our understanding of host associations and fuels the taxon-sampling in our phylogenetic work (also supported by NSF). Undergrad and grad students are involved in this work in Chicago, Buffalo, and Bowling Green. Interest in the mostly unexplored ectoparasite communities of African bats helped fuel my collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Service ecologist Paul Webala on surveying the diverse bat communities of Kenya (see above). 

Photo by B. A. Harney in Tsavo, Kenya (July 2007)

A research program that I am now concluding focused on the Tsavo lions, infamous as man-eaters a century ago but more remarkable because many of them lack manes. In a series of papers, I have explored the morphology, genetics, behavior, and ecology of lions in SE Kenya with Samuel Kasiki (Kenya Wildlife Service) and Alex Mwazo (Kenyatta University), Roland Kays (NY State Museum), Jean Dubach (Loyola University), Justin Yeakel (UC Santa Cruz), and others.  Our aim has been to understand this distinctive and environmentally-plastic trait (manelessness) at genetic, hormonal, histological, anatomical, and behavioral levels. Concurrently, we gathered information to mitigate the impacts of lion depredations on livestock to ensure their continued survival and the preservation of their habitats. Until 2009, this project had the help of volunteers from the Earthwatch Institute.

As detailed in Students, interactions with undergraduate and graduate students enrich, extend, and complement these studies. All four research arenas offer opportunities for student research projects and post-graduate collaborations alike.