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Niche partitioning of bats in the UK

Allaby Research Group

As a result of the ecological forensics service carried out by the ARG, we now have a large repository of bat guano samples from numerous species that have been collected from around the UK in all seasons. This is a hugely valuable resource.

Recent advances in next generation sequencing technologies mean that it is now feasible to use a metagenomic approach (sourcing DNA directly from environmental samples) to accurately identify all prey species fragments from each guano sample1-4.

The aim of this is to improve our understanding of the role that food resource partitioning plays in species co-existence and in sympatric speciation2. It is thought that dietary breadth is directly correlated with extinction risk, with specialists showing greater vulnerability and generalists displaying greater robustness5. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of the different dietary niches occupied by bats would be a highly valuable tool for informing conservation and management strategies.

Why choose bats? The alarming rates at which bat numbers are declining, coupled with the great diversity of at species (well over 1000 species identified so far) makes bats excellent candidates for a study of this sort6. Furthermore, bats provide a number of services to the UK; they distribute of nutrients, they are key for managing nocturnal insects and are excellent bioindicators of an ecosystem’s health7.

In parallel to this work, we will be testing the samples for diseases such as white nose syndrome (Geomyces destructans) and rabies (lyssaviruses). These diseases pose a significant threat to bats- white nose syndrome alone is thought to have caused the death of around 5.5 million bats in the USA and Canada. Whilst these diseases have not yet been found to be a problem in the UK, they are thought to be present8,9. Passive surveillance is vital to supporting the management of these diseases and identification of areas of risk.

This project is being carried out by Roselyn Ware in a collaboration between the Allaby and Rossiter research groups.

Key References

1. Clare, E.L., Fraser, E.E., Braid, H.E., Fenton, M.B. & Hebert, P.D.N. Species on the menu of a generalist predator, the eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis): using a molecular approach to detect arthropod prey. Molecular Ecology 18, 2532-2542 (2009).

2. Razgour, O. et al. High‐throughput sequencing offers insight into mechanisms of resource partitioning in cryptic bat species. Ecology and Evolution (2011).

3. Clare, E.L., Barber, B.R., Sweeney, B.W., Hebert, P.D.N. & Fenton, M.B. Eating local: influences of habitat on the diet of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus). Molecular Ecology 20, 1772-1780 (2011).

4. Zeale, M.R.K., Butlin, R.K., Barker, G.L.A., Lees, D.C. & Jones, G. Taxon‐specific PCR for DNA barcoding arthropod prey in bat faeces. Molecular ecology resources 11, 236-244 (2011). 5. Boyles, J.G. & Storm, J.J. The Perils of Picky Eating: Dietary Breadth Is Related to Extinction Risk in Insectivorous Bats. PLoS ONE 2, e672 (2007).

6. Safi, K. & Kerth, G. A Comparative Analysis of Specialization and Extinction Risk in Temperate‐Zone Bats. Conservation Biology 18, 1293-1303 (2004).

7. Jones, G., Jacobs, D.S., Kunz, T.H., Willig, M.R. & Racey, P.A. Carpe noctem: the importance of bats as bioindicators. Endangered Species Research 8, 93-115 (2009).

8. Johnson, N. et al. Isolation of a European bat lyssavirus type 2 from a Daubenton's bat in the United Kingdom. Veterinary record 152, 383-387 (2003).

9. Wibbelt, G. et al. White-nose syndrome fungus (Geomyces destructans) in bats, Europe. Emerging Infectious Diseases 16, 1237 (2010).


Robin G. Allaby

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