Old bat gets a new name

October 29, 2013

A specimen preserved in a jar of alcohol in The Natural History Museum, London has remained the only record of the Mortlock Islands flying fox, one of the least known bat species on the planet, for over 140 years. That is until now. A team of bat biologists led by Dr. Don Buden from the College of Micronesia has collected new information about this "forgotten" species, and studied it in the wild for the first time. The study is reported today in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The original London specimen was collected in 1870 from the remote Mortlock Islands, a series of low-lying atolls and part of the Federated States of Micronesia in the west-central Pacific Ocean. British biologist Oldfield Thomas used this specimen to name the species Pteropus phaeocephalus in 1882. However, information uncovered by Dr. Buden proves that a German naturalist, voyaging on a Russian Expedition, got there first.

"We found a report written by F.H. Kittlitz in 1836 describing his expedition to the Pacific Islands in the late 1820s. In that report he describes the flying-foxes of the Mortlocks and names them Pteropus pelagicus. This means the species was named long before Thomas's description in 1882" said Buden.

According to internationally established rules for naming animals, the earliest available scientific name of a species must be officially adopted, so the Mortlock Islands flying fox is now correctly known as Pteropus pelagicus. Not only does Kittlitz correctly deserve credit for the discovery of the species, 50 years earlier than previously thought, but he can also be now credited for the "new" name. Furthermore, Buden and colleagues demonstrated that flying foxes from the nearby islands of Chuuk Lagoon, long regarded as a separate species (Pteropus insularis), are also best regarded as a subspecies of Pteropus pelagicus, showing that the species has a wider geographic distribution than previously realized.

New fieldwork in the Mortlock Islands revealed more than name changes. The ZooKeys article describes the first study of the behavior, diet, and conservation status of this flying fox, finding that the Mortlock Islands support a small population of 900 to 1200 bats scattered across a land surface of only 12 km2 (4.6 square miles). Legal rules have brought better protection to the species, which was once heavily hunted. But the future of the species is still uncertain in its island home. Rising sea levels, generated by climate change, threaten the flying foxes' habitat and food resources through flooding, erosion, and contamination of freshwater supplies.

"This remarkable study shows how much we have to learn about Pacific Islands mammals, "said Prof. Tim Flannery of Macquarie University in Sydney, who was not involved in the research. "Where there was darkness, Dr. Buden and colleagues have shed light."
-end-
Co-authors of the ZooKeys study included Dr. Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and Gary Wiles of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington State.

Original source:

Buden DW, Helgen KM, Wiles GJ (2013) Taxonomy, distribution, and natural history of flying foxes (Chiroptera, Pteropodidae) in the Mortlock Islands and Chuuk State, Caroline Islands. ZooKeys 345: 97. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.345.5840

Pensoft Publishers

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.