Hurricanes Blow Away Bats, Spread Genes to New Islands

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There is little chance that the bats voluntarily flew this distance over water, the team said, which suggests that the hurricane literally picked up a few bats off Cayman Brac and plopped them on Grand Cayman.

"When you hear about winds distributing animals, it is typically anecdotal," Fleming said.

"We got lucky and just happened to be analyzing the right animals at the right time."

Genetic diversity is important for keeping animal populations robust. For example, if a population has little genetic variation, offspring become weaker and may eventually become inbred.

Biologist Scott Pedersen at South Dakota State University in Brookings was not involved in the study.

"It's good work and is a very welcome bit of data that we all pretty much suspected, [because] our own radio-tracking shows that bats are not moving amongst islands on their own," Pedersen said.

Perfect Storm

Fleming cautioned that hurricanes do not always have this distributing effect.

In the Bahamas, for instance, bats did not become more genetically diverse after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.

Clearly, a perfect storm of factors—the right bat populations on the right islands in the right storm—must exist for hurricanes to help bats.

"It looks like it takes really powerful storms to get the job done," added South Dakota State's Pedersen.

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