Climate change could put rare bat species at greater risk

Climate change could put rare bat species at greater risk
Grey long-eared bats could be hard hit by climate change. Credit: Antton Alberdi

An endangered bat species with a UK population of less than 1,000 could be further threatened by the effects of global warming, according to a new study led by the University of Southampton.

Scientists warn that, while in the UK could actually become more favourable for the grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus), populations in southern Europe that hold the key for the survival of the as a whole could be devastated.

Working with its partners, the University has developed a new framework to identify wildlife populations threatened by change.

The study outlining the framework, published in the journal Molecular Ecology Resources, focuses on the grey long-eared bat and shows that its populations in Spain and Portugal are particularly at risk as conditions there become too harsh.

This is of great concern to ecologists because the populations in these include pockets with the highest levels of genetic diversity, thanks to their ancestors having survived major climate change events such as ice ages. This makes them better suited to the hotter, drier conditions associated with climate change.

However, other populations in the region that lack such and are unable to adapt to the harsher conditions could become isolated if they cannot fly to more climatically suitable areas because the landscape in between is unsuitable.

This could also stop the bats from better-adapted populations – whose genes could help the threatened survive – from reaching them.

Lead author Dr Orly Razgour, of the University of Southampton, explained: "Long-lived, slow-reproducing species with smaller sizes are not likely to be able to adapt to future climate change fast enough through the spread of new mutations arising in the population.

"Instead they will depend on the spread of adaptive genetic variation between populations through the movement of individuals.

"As climate change progresses and the environment becomes less suitable for the bats, they will not only struggle to survive where they are currently found but they will also find it more difficult to shift their range to climatically suitable areas.

"This reduced connectivity between populations will in turn affect the ability to adapt to changing climatic conditions because of reduced movement of individuals that are better adapted to warmer and drier conditions into the population."

The framework developed by Dr Razgour and her colleagues at partner institutions uses three measures to identify wildlife populations at risk from climate change.

It uses ecological modelling and climate data to looking at where climate change is likely to be most extreme; gathers genomic data to assess which species are likely to be most sensitive to the effects of future climate change (in the case of the bats, wing biopsy samples were collected from eight populations in the Iberian Peninsula and two populations in England); and considers range shift potential – i.e. the ability of a species to move from an unsuitable to a suitable area.

Using these three measures, levels of risk are generated for each population – low risk, medium, medium-high and high risk.

Dr Razgour said: "The framework we have developed can be used to identify the that are most under threat, and therefore help decide how to focus conservation efforts to help the species survive under future .

"In the case of the bats, this may require people moving them to a more climatically suitable area.

"Alternatively, we can focus our conservation efforts on medium-high risk populations, where we can encourage the bats to move to more suitable areas through increasing connectivity with other populations and to areas where climatic conditions will remain more suitable."

Explore further

Climate change threatens hotspots of genetic diversity

More information: Orly Razgour et al. An integrated framework to identify wildlife populations under threat from climate change, Molecular Ecology Resources (2017). DOI: 10.1111/1755-0998.12694
Journal information: Molecular Ecology Resources

Citation: Climate change could put rare bat species at greater risk (2017, August 2) retrieved 19 September 2019 from
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Aug 02, 2017
It isn't like the changing climate hasn't wiped out species before. Are these climate change fanatical alarmists actually proposing we some how create a completely static climate? If not, then they better get over the fact that some species cannot adapt to the changing climate. And before these fanatical nut jobs start blaming humanity, they should be reminded that species have gone extinct due to the changing climate long before humans ever appeared and they will continue to go extinct long after humans are gone. They clearly need to get a grip on reality.

Aug 02, 2017
There is internal conflict in your argument. The physics of the greenhouse effect are clear and the effects of climate change are, as you say, well known. So why should we not be concerned? At what point do deniers admit their ideological bias?

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