Meet Africa’s new bats

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It is a wonder in itself that new mammal species are still being discovered, but when three new bat species are found in a remote corner of Africa, it really is a dollop of kudos for the scientists concerned. Acoustics, anatomical and DNA studies, as well as plenty of good old-fashioned field work have delivered these new horseshoe bat species from Gorongosa National Park and Northern Mozambique … and the researchers believe that there might well be more to follow.


Discovery of new bat species from Gorongosa National Park and Northern Mozambique

BY GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK | 25 APRIL, 2018

A new study just published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society has described three new bat species in southern Africa. One, Rhinolophus gorongosae, seems to occur only in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park and possibly also on nearby Mount Mecula. Using genetic and morphological techniques, R. gorongosae was found to be distinct from neighboring horseshoe bat populations. With a mass of only five grams this “dwarf” becomes Africa’s smallest horseshoe bat. A second species, Rhinolophus rhodesiae, has also been confirmed to be a distinct species found in northern Mozambique and other parts of southern Africa.

“We’re thrilled to add two new bat species to the checklist for Mozambique,” says Jen Guyton, one of the co-authors. “It’s not often that new mammal species are described anymore, but genetic methods are revolutionizing taxonomy and allowing us to unearth a whole host of cryptic species.”

Rhinolophus gorongosae

Additionally, the southern African population of a third species, Rhinolophus lobatus, previously considered identical to R. landeri, a West African species, has been described as a new species unique to Mozambique and South Africa. It replaces R. landeri on the species list for Mozambique.

Using a range of modern techniques from acoustic analysis of bat echolocation calls to molecular DNA analysis and morphological studies of the skull, nose leaf and penis bone (baculum), led by Professor Peter Taylor from University of Venda and the Centre for Invasion Biology as well as a large team of co-workers from the universities of KwaZulu-Natal, Stellenbosch, Witwatersrand, University, Pretoria, Swaziland, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the Ditsong National Museum and the Durban Natural Science Museum, the study highlighted the narrow distribution range of these new species. Two scientists from Gorongosa National Park, Princeton University PhD candidate Jen Guyton and Piotr Naskrecki, associate director of the E.O. Wilson Lab, also contributed to the description of R. gorongosae and R. lobatus.

These descriptions were based largely on specimens collected in Gorongosa over the past five years and held at the Durban Museum in South Africa, as well as acoustic recordings made on Gorongosa bats. These specimens and recordings were collected as part of the E.O. Wilson Lab’s annual biodiversity surveys, which seek to document all macroscopic flora and fauna in the Greater Gorongosa Ecosystem.

Due to their provision of ecosystem services, high diversity, and patterns of endemism, bats are of particular conservation concern and are an apt group for setting conservation priorities. Bats currently number some 1,115 recognized species, representind about 20 per cent of all mammalian species.

Rhinolophus gorongosae

This study brings the bat species count for Mozambique to 71. These discoveries add to the already remarkable diversity and complexity of the Gorongosa Ecosystem, which suffered near-total declines of large mammals during the Mozambican civil war. Since 2004, the Carr Foundation and the government of Mozambique have worked to restore the ecosystem to its pre-war state, with incredible success. Recently, Gorongosa scientists have discovered that the park and its surrounding areas (the Greater Gorongosa Ecosystem GGE) boast a particularly rich bat fauna as well.

As of 2018, at least 45 bat species are known from the GGE, 63 per cent of the total number of species known from Mozambique. This species count exceeds the 42 known bat species for South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a much more thoroughly-studied protected area that is larger than the GGE. However, Mozambique is poorly explored and a number of known bat species are cryptic; some northern parts of the country lack bat data entirely. The authors of this paper are thus confident that Mozambique will continue to produce new bat species in the near future.

“Gorongosa Mountain, the southernmost fragment of Afromontane rainforest in the world, and Khodzué, the enormous limestone cave system within the Gorongosa Ecosystem where R. gorongosae also occurs, are biodiversity treasures for Africa,” says Guyton. “Our annual biodiversity surveys have already unearthed a wealth of species in the Greater Gorongosa Ecosystem, but places like Khodzué and Gorongosa Mountain merit further exploration.” “This study highlights the importance of protected areas such as Gorongosa National Park to the survival of the world’s biodiversity”, says Naskrecki. “Mozambique is quickly becoming one of the leaders in conservation of African biodiversity, and more discoveries like this one are expected.”

About the Gorongosa Project: Gorongosa National Park (GNP) in Mozambique is perhaps Africa’s greatest wildlife restoration story. In 2008 a 20-year Public-Private Partnership was established for the joint management of GNP between the Government of Mozambique and the Carr Foundation (Gorongosa Project), a US nonprofit organization. In 2016 the Government of Mozambique approved the extension for another 25 years of joint management. By adopting a 21st Century conservation model of balancing the needs of wildlife and people, Gorongosa is protecting and saving this beautiful wilderness, returning it to its rightful place as one of Africa’s greatest national parks.

For more information contact Vasco Galante by phone (+258 82 297 0010)or email (vasco@gorongosa.net). For more general information, visit http://www.gorongosa.org

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