Inter-island Bat Travel

 

WILLEMSTAD — It was on January 15th 2013, during a bat research session in one of the important bat caves on the eastern part of the island of Curaçao, that local bat researchers of ABC-islands’ Bat Protection Program or PPR-ABC (PAP: Programa pa Protehé Ratonnan di Anochi di islanan ABC) captured and released two individuals of the Curaçaoan Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris curasoae), which were previously tagged on Bonaire.

“Lepto” is the nickname of the Curaçaon Long-Nosed Bat (pictured to the left). 

This finding signifies a major breakthrough in understanding the population dynamics of this key species in northern South America, and especially in the case of the ABC-islands. After more than four years of continuous work on Bonaire and one year of work on Curaçao and Aruba, we got the first two animals that show a behavior that could be common for the species in this set of islands:

they can switch islands for food by flying across the sea. The Curaçaoan Long-nosed Bat are together with the Miller’s Long-tongued Bat (Glossophaga longirostris), the main pollinators of all columnar cacti on the islands, which in turn are a major food source for the local terrestrial fauna. Later that week another tagged bat from Bonaire was caught in the most western major cave of the island (Kueba Bosa 3). Could these mammalian pollinators be travelling to Aruba too?!

Curaçao harbors a total of nine species (including the two previously mentioned pollinator species) of bats that feed on nectar, insects, fruits and even fish.

The current bat research activities conducted on Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire and northern Venezuela are part of a long-term Bat Research and Conservation Plan designed and conducted under the coordination of four institutions: Arikok National Park Foundation in Aruba, Carmabi Foundation in Curaçao, Stinapa Bonaire in Bonaire, and Insituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC) in Venezuela. A specific component of this plan is to acquire more knowledge on the population dynamics of the Curaçaoan Long-nosed Bat. Previous research conducted by Carmabi and international bat researcher Sophie Petit on the major bat caves of Curaçao in the previous decades showed heavy seasonal fluctuations in population sizes of mainly the Long-nosed Bat. Sometimes normally densely populated caves were found totally empty. Until last Tuesday, it was only hypothesized that these bats might travel between the ABC-islands and the possibly the Paraguaná peninsula (northwestern Venezuela). The capture of the Bonairean bats confirmed that, at least, there is connection between the populations of this species inhabiting Bonaire and Curaçao.

Bat TeamThe bats have been tagged by ringing them on their forearm with coded aluminum rings. The code constitutes the initials of the bat specialist supervising the project, Jafet M. Nassar, the initial letter of the island where the bat was marked, followed by a unique number that reflects the number of bats ringed on each island.

Pictured right: the Curaçao team together with bat specialists Jafet Nassar (bottom left) and Fernando Simal (bottom right).

Lepto JNB 0577 was ringed 2.5 years ago and Lepto JNB 2046 was ringed in November 2011 on Bonaire. Although this finding constitutes a major breakthrough for the study of bats on the ABC islands, many critical questions about the bat species inhabiting the islands still remain unanswered and continued research on all three islands and Venezuela is necessary to understand and protect these very important and threatened mammals in this part of the Caribbean.

The PPR-ABC is a joint effort for the conservation of the bats species and consists of teams of local researchers and volunteers from a variety of backgrounds for each island. This joint effort was started in March 2012 by bat experts Fernando Simal of STINAPA Bonaire and Dr. Jafet M. Nassar from the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC), during a workshop on bat research and conservation on Curaçao and Aruba. The PPR-ABC is a member of the Latin American Network for Bat Conservation (RELCOM). The Curaçao-team consists of scientists and rangers of Carmabi Foundation, and volunteers such as a veterinarian and a nature photographer.

For more information please contact John de Freitas (Tel: 462-4242 or j.defreitas@carmabi.org) or visit the PPR-ABC Curaçao-team Facebook page: Bat Conservation Curacao

 

5 Responses to Inter-island Bat Travel

  1. Kathy Samuel says:

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but how does the presence of bats tagged on one island and found on a neighboring island prove that the bats are “flying across the sea”? There is regular and frequent boat traffic between all the these islands and between the islands and South America. What evidence is there that these bats are flying as opposed to stowing away in boxes of fruit or other cargo on one of these many vessels in order to make their sea crossings?

  2. Thanks Kathy, great question. It is possible but very unlikely the bats moved via boat traffic. It was suspected that these bats migrate between the ABC islands and Venezuela because Leptonycteris species are known to travel great distances to forage. They are also easily disturbed by people and development so getting into a small boat and cargo is unlikely.

    This is from Dr. Jafet Nassar, one of the project’s lead investigators:

    Leptonycteris yerbabuenae (sister species of L. curasoae) on Isla Tiburón, Baja California, flies every night across the sea to feed on mainland (see paper here – http://www.conatura.org/files/Hornerflemingsahley.pdf).

    “Leptonycteris species are very susceptible to roost disturbance and require to roost in groups. It is quite unlikely to me that these animals would choose to use a boat to move among islands. They need caves, they don’t roost in tree holes, small boxes, etc.

    They can easily fly across the sea the distance that separates Bonaire and Curacao. They migrate 1,600 km between Mexico and USA.

    So the answer is no, very unlikely.”

  3. An update from STINAPA Bonaire:

    “After almost five years of work capturing and marking the most important pollinators of our cacti, the Long-nosed Bats (L. curasoae), last night (April 10, 2013) the Natural and Historic Resources Unit from STINAPA Bonaire, with the help of local and foreign volunteers, recaptured an adult female Long-nosed Bat originally marked on Curacao in November 2012. This recapture, demonstrates the hypothesis of a two way bat route between the islands and perhaps Venezuela. This finding clearly shows that it is necessary to coordinate a regional plan to protect the caves used by these bats on all 3 of the ABC Islands.
    The flight from Curacao to Bonaire is against the wind and therefore requires a bigger effort from these small flying mammals, making this bat’s journey even more remarkable than the ones of the 3 Bonairian bats recaptured in Curacao a couple of months ago.”

  4. Pingback: Bats Recaptured in Venezuela | DCNA

  5. Pingback: Aruba, Bonaire bats travel to Venezuela | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Yoselle Margaritha

Yoselle Margaritha works for STINAPA Bonaire as a ranger.

 

 

Nathaniel Miller

nat_millerNat worked for the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) from July 2010 until November 2014. For the last 18 months he was Assistant Director and running not only projects but undertaking much of DCNA’s social media outreach and on line fundraising intiatives.

Nat’s work included planning and implementing DCNA’s regional projects and organising workshops, trainings and staff exchanges.

Nat grew up in the streams, forests and fields of the Midwest United States and always had a passion for wildlife. Now he is a dedicated conservationist experienced in strategic planning, conservation finance, public policy, communicating conservation, landscape ecology and biodiversity monitoring. Nat received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Miami University and a master’s degree in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Prior to working for DCNA Nat served as the Protected Area Manager for the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve and Bladen Nature Reserve in southern Belize with Ya’axché Conservation Trust.