Bat conservation is taking hold in East Africa, and part of the reason is Robert M. Kityo, who, with the support of a Bat Conservation International scholarship, recently earned a Ph.D. in biology from Mekerere University in Uganda. The scholarship supported Kityo’s bat-diversity research in three Ugandan forest reserves and a national park, and it is leading to a host of important conservation spinoffs.
Kityo and colleagues in Kenya and Tanzania are producing a first-ever bat atlas for East Africa based on a growing database of bat-species distribution through the region. The atlas, which should prove a valuable tool for future monitoring and conservation planning, will be introduced at a Biodiversity Workshop next summer.
Kityo’s field work also produced the region’s first reference collection of bat echolocation calls. He documented the calls of at least 15 species, correlated them with basic habitat preferences and is making the collection available as a tool species identification.
Three university students who worked in the field with Kityo wound up focusing their undergraduate dissertations on bat ecology, raising the possibility some might become bat biologists in the future.
The research itself examined the diversity and habitat requirements of Ugandan bats. Individuals of 32 species were captured, identified and released, including three species that had not previously been reported in Uganda.
Kityo found that dense, cluttered forest attracted insect-eating bats, but produced the opposite effect on the larger fruit-eating species, whose wider wingspans cause problems amid the tree clutter. His observations suggest that reducing tree clutter by selectively harvesting some trees while leaving others intact could have an overall positive impact on bat communities in the forest.
He also confirmed that big, old-growth trees, with a circumference of at least 9.8 feet (3 meters) are critical for many species that roost in hollows. Conservation of such trees, which are no longer useful as commercial timber, is absolutely crucial to the survival of these bats.
You can help Bat Conservation International support student research around the world by donating to BCI’s Student Scholarship Fund. Please contact the Development Department at (512) 327-9721 or firstname.lastname@example.org.