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Zoogeography of Bats


The Order Chiroptera is the second largest order of mammals, with, according to my most recent revised figure, 846 species. Inasmuch as the group is world-wide, reaching many distant islands, and inasmuch as many species and higher groups are quite localized and some very distinctive, one might expect that a good deal of work on bat zoogeography would have been undertaken. However, such is not the case. Darlington (1957, pp. 320-410) does discuss the general geographical patterns of bats, and Tate (1946) gives a useful analysis of the bats of the Malay archipelago. However, many writers on zoogeography have given them at best a very perfunctory treatment. This contrasts markedly with the attention given to bird zoogeography. From talking with various zoogeographers, I suspect the reason is that whereas birds are treated as a separate group in their own right, bats are treated as part of the Class Mammalia. Since all bats can fly, there seems to be a general assumption that they regularly cross various kinds of geographical barriers at will, with the result that they have been rather consistently downgraded with respect to flightless mammals in zoogeographical studies (see, e.g., Bigalke, 1968). Actually, except for their ability at crossing narrow water gaps without too much difficulty, bats have several advantages in zoogeographical studies over various other groups of land vertebrates. With a very few exceptions, they are not likely to fly over the open ocean as part of their normal activities. They are almost entirely free of the problems of human introduction. I know of only one case where (unintentional) human introduction has played a role, and this has not resulted in an introduced population. This was a specimen of the North American Myotis lucifugus, collected in Iceland, that is believed to have been inadvertently transported by ship (see Koopman & Gudmundsson, 1966). Aside from the advantages mentioned above, the large number of species, at least in the tropics, means that there are enough individual cases to enable zoogeographical patterns to be worked out.

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