Bats and climate change

Professor Gareth Jones is studying bats to help us understand their genetics and work out how we can protect them from the effects of global warming.

Background to research

Bat populations are at risk of becoming fragmented and inbred by changes in climate (as happened during the last Ice Age). It is important to identify populations that harbour the highest genetic diversity and to determine if these populations are at risk from climate change

Studies performed

Professor Gareth Jones and his team are leading a long-term study of the population of greater horseshoe bats. The study has been ongoing for over 50 years and been gathering DNA since 1993.

The researchers take very small skin biopsies (that heal rapidly without causing a problem for the animals) from the wing membranes of the bats and extract their DNA. This enables them to develop a genetic pedigree of the bats, identify successful males (who survive and leave many offspring) and conserve their roosts. 

Further studies have investigated genetic variation in bat populations across Europe.

Research impact

The researchers have been able to identify the genetic factors that reduce bat survival and find out which populations are at risk of inbreeding. As a result, important mating roosts have been conserved.

The research has also helped them to understand how genetic variation in bat populations across Europe has been shaped by past climate change, and to work out which populations are most at risk from future climate change and should be given the highest priority for conservation.

Due to this research, one bat species (the rare great long-eared bat) has become part of a nationwide co-ordinated scheme to conserve some of Britain's most endangered wildlife.

This research has helped reveal bat populations that are most at risk from future climate change.

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