Few strategies are as powerful for creating sustainable bat conservation efforts around the globe as training and nurturing young scientists and conservationists. And that is the goal of the Southeast Asian Bat Conservation and Research Unit, known as SEABCRU. Armed with five-years of funding, awarded in June from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the organization is launching an ambitious program to build a multinational bat-conservation community throughout the region.
Southeast Asia is one of the most biologically rich areas of the world, but rapid human-population growth and economic development threaten that remarkable biodiversity. Deforestation alone is expected to contribute to the global extinction of up to 20 percent of existing wildlife species in the region by 2100.
For bats, these impacts are magnified by widespread hunting for food and traditional medicine and by frequent disturbance of important cave roosts. With more than 300 species, Southeast Asia accounts for about a fourth of the world's bat fauna. But the International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that it has too little data to even determine the population status of 56 percent of bat species in the region. And among species for which data are available, about three-quarters are in decline. Conservation of Southeast Asia's bats is crucial.
Tigga Kingston, a Texas Tech University biologist with broad experience in Southeast Asia, launched SEABCRU (pronounced SEE bee crew) as a network for scientists and conservationists in 2007, during the first Southeast Asian Bat Conference in Phuket, Thailand. The conference noted that long-term bat conservation requires active partnerships and collaboration. Attendees identified four top priorities for bat research and conservation in Southeast Asia: cave bats, forest bats and flying foxes, plus a greater understanding of taxonomy. Initial funding came from the BAT Biodiversity Partnership.
More than 130 bat conservationists, researchers, educators and students have joined SEABCRU, and membership is still growing. Dave Waldien, BCI's Vice President of Operations and International Programs, serves on the Steering Committee along with other bat-conservation leaders from around Southeast Asia and the world. Leadership teams for each conservation priority are mobilizing people and resources as they work toward ambitious goals over the next five years.
The centerpiece of each priority plan features training and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students to build sustainable research and conservation efforts into the future. Renowned bat biologist Paul Racey of the United Kingdom recently urged us all to "roll up our sleeves and get to work." SEABCRU is at least one group that is taking that charge to heart in a collaborative effort to fill the conservation void across a broad swath of the globe.