Bat Bonanza: 100+ Species Found in 5 Acres of Jungle

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The high level of biodiversity in tropical rain forests gives bats an advantage, experts say.

"These bats will exploit fruit, nectar, insects, blood, and even small vertebrates, and this wide variety of food types may be the key to the high species richness there," said Gareth Jones, a bat expert from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Diverse Talents

Rex and her colleagues also observed the different skills displayed among the many bat species.

"Fish-eating bats skim the surface of waters with their legs and detect fish that come to the surface using their echolocation [biological sonar] calls. They catch them using their large feet," said Christian Voigt, Rex's Ph.D supervisor, also from the Leibniz Institute.

Frog-eating bats listen for the calls of male frogs to find their prey, and vampire bats have razor-sharp teeth to slice through the skin of their victims.

Many of the bats are also important seed dispersers and pollinators, playing an essential role in the productivity of the forest.

Unfortunately the outlook doesn't look so sunny for some of the exotic bats.

Roads built for oil prospecting and easy access to the forest encourages illegal logging, for example.

"Oil exploration and other forms of human disturbance are a great worry, because they inevitably lead to habitat fragmentation and degradation," the University of Sussex's Hill said.

(Read: "Vampire Bats Attacking Cattle as Rain Forest Falls" [August 20, 2007].)

"This reduces the complexity of the environment and consequently reduces the diversity of species that are able to coexist," he said.

Human influences could prove fatal for bats, Voight added. "Rain forest degradation has the potential to make most tropical bat species become extinct."

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