Kyoto, Japan -- Here's a fun fact: Japan has more bat species than any other order of mammal in the country, and a third of these are endemic. But the bad news is that 90% of the endemic species are at risk of extinction.
Bats play crucial ecological roles, including in pollination and pest control. But while they have been a focus of research in many fields of science -- including epidemiology -- they remain underrepresented in conservation, particularly in Japan.
Publishing in Mammal Review, researchers from Kyoto University's Graduate School of Informatics describe a systematic survey of the state of Japanese bat research and their analysis of the possible roots of the problem.
The study authors found poor alignment between conservation needs and allocation of research resources. Although research effort has increased gradually since the year 2000, threatened endemic bats remain significantly less studied than their non-threatened counterparts.
"Conservation status alone is not enough to promote research on these threatened species," explains Jason Preble, doctoral candidate and one of the authors of the study.
"We systematically reviewed the literature of the last fifty years, assessing patterns in research distribution across multiple categories in order to identify gaps and future priorities."
The team found a marked shortage of both ecological and conservation-motivated studies in international journals on nearly half of the extant species in Japan. Moreover, while many threats to Japanese bats have been identified, such as forest loss or alteration, there was a shortage of data measuring the impacts of these threats.
"All of these factors are immensely concerning," continues corresponding author Christian E. Vincenot. "We were distressed to see threats such as wind turbines and climate change severely understudied."
Based on their results, the team lists recommendations aimed at strengthening Japanese bat conservation.
"For example, we need to prioritize research efforts that provide the ecological information needed to design and implement concrete conservation plans," Vincenot explains.
Data disclosure is imperative, he continues. Openness not only helps the research community, but provides valuable resources to government officers, NGOs, and non-professional naturalists who are equally key players in a comprehensive conservation strategy.
The authors also emphasize the importance of communicating research findings to the public, which in turn can facilitate support from funding agencies.
"While hopeful signs of improvement exist, ultimately a stronger spirit of research and collaboration -- along with informed conservation practices -- will determine if these creatures can reach the road to recovery or ultimately decline into extinction," concludes Vincenot.
The paper "In the Shadow of the Rising Sun: A Systematic Review of Japanese Bat Research and Conservation" appeared on 7 December 2020 in Mammal Review, with doi: 10.1111/mam.12226
About Kyoto University
Kyoto University is one of Japan and Asia's premier research institutions, founded in 1897 and responsible for producing numerous Nobel laureates and winners of other prestigious international prizes. A broad curriculum across the arts and sciences at both undergraduate and graduate levels is complemented by numerous research centers, as well as facilities and offices around Japan and the world. For more information please see: http://www.
About the research team
Jason Preble is a PhD student and member of the Island Bat Research Group (IBRG), a research unit led by Assistant Professor Vincenot, which is part of the Biosphere Informatics Laboratory directed by Professor Ohte, Department of Social Informatics, Kyoto University. Preble's doctoral research seeks to uncover the ecology of Okinawa's endangered tree-roosting microbats and led in 2018 to the local rediscovery on Okinawa island of Myotis yanbarensis, one of Japan's rarest bats.
Nobuhito Ohte is a prominent hydrobiogeochemist and ecosystem ecologist. He heads the Biosphere Informatics Laboratory and is the current Chair of the Department of Social Informatics at Kyoto University. Professor Ohte has developed a keen interest in socio-ecological issues through large international projects (eg TAPESTRY, Transformation to Sustainability Program). He co-supervised the present work and the PhD thesis of Jason Preble.
Christian E Vincenot is a chiropterologist who has been working on island bat research and conservation in Japan and abroad for the last seven years. He is Assistant Professor with the Biosphere Informatics Laboratory and the founder and coordinator of the Island Bat Research Group (IBRG). He co-supervised the present work and co-supervises the PhD thesis of Jason Preble.
Assistant Professor Christian E Vincenot
Biosphere Informatics Laboratory, Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University
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