Researchers link Caribbean extinction of bats to rising sea levels

November 8, 2012
Rising Seas Caused by Glacial Melting Linked to Caribbean Extinction of Bats
Outline of Caribbean islands at the Last Glacial Maximum and at present. Credit: Liliana M. Dávalos

(Phys.org)—In a new study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, researchers show that rising sea levels produced by deglaciation, or the melting of glaciers, caused the extinction of most bats in the Caribbean Islands, including the Cuban vampire and Puerto Rican flower bats. The article, entitled, "Deglaciation explains bat extinction in the Caribbean," led by Assistant Professor Liliana M. Dávalos, PhD, from the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, shows that deglaciation drowned vast expanses of low-lying islands.

According to Professor Dávalos and her colleague Amy L. Russell, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, the high extinction rate following deglaciation in the Caribbean has been noted for decades and rich fossil deposits in the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles attest to a fauna that no longer exists. Among mammals, most terrestrial species were wiped out around the time humans arrived, and many that existed elsewhere went extinct (e.g., Cuban vampire bat, Puerto Rican flower bat, etc.) on one or several islands. The many instances of both extinction and persistence of bats across dozens of islands made it an ideal system for investigating how climate change may shape island fauna.

Rising Seas Caused by Glacial Melting Linked to Caribbean Extinction of Bats
The skulls of Subfossil Caribbean bats from the Dominican Republic. Credit: Courtesy of the Museo del Hombre Dominicano, Dr. Renato Rímoli and the Antillothrix Project

The researchers used deep sea-bathymetry (measurement of underwater depth) and (GIS) to model the extent to which land would have been exposed in the Caribbean at the peak of the glaciation, when sea levels were 125 meters below their current levels. Combining the record of current and fossil bats with the area for each island, they then used a simple mathematical relationship between the number of species and area of an island to estimate the number of local that could be explained by the change in area.

Together, they found that most of the species loss in the Bahamas and Greater Antilles could be explained by the loss of area caused by rising sea levels. In the Lesser Antilles the mathematical models pointed out gaps in the fossil record of most islands. The large impact of area loss on held, even after excluding species that may have colonized the islands recently and accounting for coral growth in the Bahamas.

"There have been many explanations before as to why so many bat populations collapsed: cave drowning, the arrival of new species, lack of tolerance to the warmer and wetter climate of the Holocene are examples," said Professor Dávalos.

"We were expecting area loss to be important in explaining extinction, but not as important as we found. This drives home the point that pose great risks to biodiversity today," Professor Russell said.

Explore further: Invasion of the island bats

More information: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.399/abstract

Related Stories

Invasion of the island bats

May 8, 2007

Ever since the relationship between land area and number of species crystallized into a mathematical power function, islands and island archipelagoes have been thought of as biological destinations where species from large ...

Some bat numbers up in Britain

December 31, 2006

At least four species of bats in Britain have reversed decades of declining populations and have grown in numbers recently.

Picky eating potentially perilous for bats

July 25, 2007

Working in the Department of Ecology and Organismal Biology, Justin Boyles and Jonathan Storm examined the possibility of a link between dietary specialization and the risk of extinction for bats in Australia, Europe and ...

Recommended for you

What humans and primates both know when it comes to numbers

January 18, 2017

For the past several years, Jessica Cantlon has been working to understand how humans develop the concept of numbers, from simple counting to complex mathematical reasoning. Early in her career at the University of Rochester, ...

Male baboons found to engage in feticide

January 18, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from several institutions in the U.S., some with ties to the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, has found that male baboons in the wild at times engage in feticide. ...

'Molecular scissors' could point the way to genetic cures

January 18, 2017

Guan-En Graham is determined to find out exactly what happened to her father. When she was a child, he developed brain cancer. Since then, she has worked to understand the intricate genetic mechanisms that trigger brain diseases ...

Decoded microbial metabolism explains biofuel yield

January 18, 2017

To unravel how intricate waste biomass converts to biofuels, a Cornell professor studied the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum to decipher its metabolism. Understanding the bacterium's sugar-processing complexities may ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.