Scientific American: Are Bats Facing a Hidden Extinction Crisis?

Scientific American recently revealed that scientists know very little about bats outside the United States.  Jessica Welch, a doctoral candidate in UT’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, hopes to fix this issue.

According to numbers crunched by Welch, the conservation status of 28 percent of the world’s known bat species is not currently understood. Nearly 200 species are currently listed as “data deficient.” Another 166 have never been evaluated for their extinction risk. The population trends of nearly half of the world’s 1,296 bat species, which determine if their numbers are climbing or shrinking, are also severely understudied. That, combined with the lack of other data on so many species, means that many bats could be at risk of extinction without anyone knowing.

Welch came to this realization when compiling data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for another project. “I noticed that there is relatively little information on bat extinction risk, given that we know so little about bat population trends and sizes,” she told the Scientific American. “For example, there are over 10,000 recognized bird species, with just 812 having an unknown population trend. For bats, 635 species have an unknown population trend.”

Welsh and her co-author Jeremy Beaulieu knew trying to collect population trend data for 635 species would be nearly impossible, which promoted them to use other methods. They decided to look at the information that scientists already know in order to calculate which bat species might be threatened by extinction.

After crunching number and using previous research, they found that six data deficient bats have a high risk of extinction, while ten species were what they called “of high interest.” They also calculated that many of the bats currently on the IUCN Red List may have higher or lower extinction risks than their current assessments. Read the full Scientific American story online.