Field Museum of Natural History
The Bats of Kenya
Public perceptions of biodiversity are dominated by charismatic megafauna, shielding an appreciation of less conspicuous fauna that may have equal or greater overall importance. Bats are highly diverse, comprising more than a quarter of Kenya’s >400 mammals. Bats perform vital ecological services, including many with consequences for agriculture, forestry, and public health. Fruit bats are crucial to the maintenance and re-establishment of natural vegetation. Their roles in seed dispersal and pollination are particularly important in tropical rainforest succession and community composition. Other bats are voracious predators of insects, saving farmers and foresters millions of dollars annually in avoided pesticide and insecticide costs. However, little is known concerning their distribution, abundance, roosting and food habits.
Key Objectives and Activities
With the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the project team set out to document the distribution and status of more than 100 bat species. In the process, they planned to assemble a library of bat vocalizations that would permit remote, passive monitoring of bat populations and activities; they also proposed gather specimens and samples samples to study bat taxonomy, diet, parasites, and pathogens.
Planned Outputs and Outcomes
Goals of the project included distributional notes and systematic revisions in the technical literature, well-curated scientific collections feeding into public databases (like VertNet and GBIF), and an extensive call library of bat vocalizations that would permit remote monitoring and expanded studies of bat abundance, behavior, and ecology.
- Morse, SF; KJ Olival: M Kosoy; S Billeter; BD Patterson; CW Dick; K Dittmar (2012) Global distribution and genetic diversity of Bartonella in bat flies (Hippoboscoidea, Streblidae, Nycteribiidae). Infection, Genetics and Evolution. 12(8): 1717-1723. (link)
- Patterson, BD; PW Webala (2012) Keys to the bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera) of East Africa. Fieldiana: Life and Earth Sciences. 6: 1 – 160. (link)
Primary Software Platforms
- Collection and research databases: KE EMu, Access
- DNA sequencing: Geneious, Mega 5.0
- Phylogenetics: RAXML, Mr Bayes
- Morphometrics: Statistica
- Bat Call Analysis: AnalookW, BatSound
Results to Date
The core contribution of the project was the complete information from nearly 4,000 field-observed bats, collected from 83 sites: physical measurements, genetics, identification of parasites, echolocation calls, and roosting information. More than 64 specimens were collected, representing 9 out of the 10 families of bats known to live in Kenya. In addition, ectoparasite samples were obtained from three quarters of all species captured. The call library now has vouchered echolocation calls for 57 species of bat (representing samples from more than 2,400 individuals). This compressive ecological, genetic, and morphological dataset will provide the basis for an improved understanding of the diversity and distribution of bats in Kenya, which, the team discovered, were not as well described as they anticipated at the outset of the project.
More than a dozen students and young scientists from Kenya and the United States participated in the project, assisting in the field and museums, learning specimen preparation and addressing questions about the relationships among species.
Seeing the Team in Action
We have the good fortune of fantastic video of the project – “Into the Bat Caves of Kenya, Parts 1 & 2” – in action through the Field Museum’s fantastic science education series The Brain Scoop with Emily Graslie, the Museum’s Chief Curiousity Officer.
The group discovered that much of the basic species-delimitation work was not sufficient to enable them to identify and curate the museum specimens they had hoped. Indeed, prior publication of a ‘Keys to the Bats of Kenya’ suggested that it would simply be a mechanical step to validate identification of 15,000 museum-held bat records. In attempting to curate the records, therefore, the group was unprepared for the discovery that the keys would fail for several key genera, making substantial curatorial progress a longer term goal. However, the comprehensive field surveys were a critical component to improving and updating the Keys, meaning that the curation will continue, if as part of a future project.
Project Director Biographies
Dr. Paul Webala is a Kenyan ecologist who has held positions at National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and now Moi University. His research focuses on the population and community ecology of bats, especially as revealed by echolocation calls. Dr. Bruce Patterson is curator at Chicago’s Field Museum and focuses on the systematics and biogeography of Neotropical and Afro-tropical mammals. Dr. Dave Waldien is VP of International Programs for Bat Conservation International and leads their collaborative projects in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Notes from JRS
JRS is proud to support this comprehensive survey of the bats of Kenya and the role this information could play in the conservation and appreciation of this important mammal. We aim to learn about the value of comprehensive data sets for a species or a geography to scientific research, policy and conservation the long-term evaluation of this project’s outputs promises to be interesting. JRS has a strategic interest in eastern Africa and hope that this information will be incorporated into regional biodiversity information systems and can be expanded by neighboring countries. This project features an exemplary partnership between the Drs. Patterson and Webala as well as the training of Kenya scientific and field staff. In the course of the project, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa pointed to the importance of understanding bat biodiversity, behavior, and role in human diet and culture. An impressive amount of data has been collected as well as identification work in global museums. At the time of this project’s close, much of the data is still unpublished, illustrating the challenge for JRS of how to monitor and ensure data publication even after our funding end. We are pleased that our 2014 grant to Rodrigo Medellin’s team at the National Autonomous University of Mexico for ultrasound monitoring of bats in Mexico includes training of African bat specialists. We hope these grants contribute to African bat conservation, biodiversity informatics, international networks of researchers, and understanding these amazing flying mammals.
Last Updated: February 28th, 2017