Four new bat species discovered in southern, eastern Africa - Times LIVE
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Four new bat species discovered in southern, eastern Africa

Times LIVE | 2012-09-13 15:41:20.0

Scientists have found four new species of horseshoe bats in East and Southern Africa.

The new species are Cohen’s Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus cohenae), Smithers’ Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus smithersi), the Mozambican Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus mossambicus) and the Mount Mabu Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus mabuensis).

The researchers compared key characteristics of the bats, including sonar calls, their skull shape, genitalia, and crucially divergence in DNA sequences to diagnose and classify the new species.

“These bats are textbook examples of cryptic species, meaning that they are really very difficult to tell apart just based on their looks and morphology,” explains  Dr Samantha Stoffberg of Stellenbosch University. “DNA comparisons have made it possible for us to clearly distinguish between these species.”

Scientists previously believed that there was only one kind of large horsehoe bat, Hildebrandt’s Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hildebrandtii), however in 1980 a group of Hildebrandt’s Horseshoe Bats were observed using different calls, cluing scientists in to the fact that more investigation was needed.

A decade later more anomalous populations were found in Mpumalanga and Mozambique, "Their specific calls provided the fortunate first clues in our search,” Dr Woody Cotterill of Stellenbosch University and the Africa Earth Observatory Network said. “We found these differ not only among bats from various parts of Africa, but critically of bats found in the same localities.”

With bats, different species often have different sonar calls so filed workers can use bat detectors to identify different cryptic species in the wild.

“Once we started comparing museum specimens from these populations, we then noticed statistically significant differences in the body size and skull shapes of these bats across the region,” said lead author Professor Peter Taylor of the University of Venda.

Interestingly, here the largest “giant” species turn out to be restricted to Afromontane habitat islands on mountaintops in Mpumulanga and Mozambique, while the smaller “dwarfs” occur at lower altitudes along major river valleys.

“We now know that a total of five distinct species of large horseshoe bats occur in central and eastern Africa,” says Professor Taylor “Now we also know that Hildebrandt’s Horseshoe Bat, the species initially known to science, actually only occurs in East Africa.”

Prof Peter Taylor of the University of Venda (South Africa), Dr Samantha Stoffberg of Stellenbosch University (South Africa), Prof Ara Monadjem of the University of Swaziland, Dr Corrie Schoeman of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), Dr Julian Bayliss of the Conservation Science Group at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) and the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust in Malawi, and Dr Woody Cotterill of Stellenbosch University and the Africa Earth Observatory Network (AEON) were the authors of the study.

You can read the full paper on PloS One.


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