Scientists have identified two new yellow-bellied bat species in Kenya, a finding that could pave the way for more species of the flying mammal across Africa. With more than 1,200 species, bats make up one-fifth of all mammal species. But the remote areas they inhabit has made studying wild bats difficult.
The two insect-eating bats are part of the Scotophilus species, which are found across Africa and southern Asia. They average around five inches in length, can weigh up to 85 grams (3 ounces), and sport bright yellow fur on their bellies.
More than half of these little bats were discovered within the last 15 years, and the relationships among them has been long been a source of confusion for biologists. For one thing, “they’re fairly cryptic,” meaning that they’re hard to find in the wild, said Terry Demos, a postdoctoral fellow at Chicago’s Field Museum and lead author of the study according to National Geographic.
The researchers from Chicago’s Field Museum gathered DNA from skin samples taken from bats in Kenya, and compared it with data from an online genetic database.
“It’s interesting to know what evolutionary forces have driven and maintained the current diversity of mammals in Africa. We need to have an accurate inventory of how many species there are so we can identify biodiversity hotspots and preserve them,” Demos said.
The Scotophilus species were first discovered nearly 200 years ago. The relatively small country of Kenya has 110 species of bats, many of which have additional subspecies. They live in urban environments, and some, such as the yellow house bat, often roost in the nooks and crannies of homes and other man-made structures.
The team used advanced genetic analysis techniques to distinguish between different species of yellow bats. By comparing all of the DNA sequences, the researchers were able to develop a chart that shows relationships between the species. The chart, which resembled a family tree, predicted at least two new species of bats.
“Africa is understudied, its biodiversity is underestimated, and there are threats to its biodiversity. This research gives a framework for future scientists to categorise species of bats and describe new species,” Demos continued.
“Africa is understudied, and its biodiversity is underestimated, and it’s critical because there are threats to its biodiversity,” said Demos. Understanding more about bats can help conservation and local farming efforts, according to Demos. This research provides a framework that can be used to explore bat species in other regions.
The findings were published online 11 July in the journal Frontiers in Evolution and Ecology.