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Palaeoecology of the Mount Etna bat fauna, coastal Eastern Queensland

Martinez, Sandrine (2010) Palaeoecology of the Mount Etna bat fauna, coastal Eastern Queensland. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Abstract

Global warming is already threatening many animal and plant communities worldwide, however, the effect of climate change on bat populations is poorly known. Understanding the factors influencing the survival of bats is crucial to their conservation, and this cannot be achieved solely by modern ecological studies. Palaeoecological investigations provide a perspective over a much longer temporal scale, allowing the understanding of the dynamic patterns that shaped the distribution of modern taxa. In this study twelve microchiropteran fossil assemblages from Mount Etna, central-eastern Queensland, ranging in age from more than 500,000 years to the present day, were investigated. The aim was to assess the responses of insectivorous bats to Quaternary environmental changes, including climatic fluctuations and recent anthropogenic impacts. In particular, this investigation focussed on the effects of increasing late Pleistocene aridity, the subsequent retraction of rainforest habitat, and the impact of cave mining following European settlement at Mount Etna. A thorough examination of the dental morphology of all available extant Australian bat taxa was conducted in order to identify the fossil taxa prior to their analysis in term of species richness and composition. This detailed odontological work provided new diagnostic dental characters for eighteen species and one genus. It also provided additional useful dental characters for three species and seven genera. This odontological analysis allowed the identification of fifteen fossil bat taxa from the Mount Etna deposits, all being representatives of extant bats, and included ten taxa identified to the species level (i.e., Macroderma gigas, Hipposideros semoni, Rhinolophus megaphyllus, Miniopterus schreibersii, Miniopterus australis, Scoteanax rueppellii, Chalinolobus gouldii, Chalinolobus dwyeri, Chalinolobus nigrogriseus and Vespadelus troughtoni) and five taxa identified to the generic level (i.e., Mormopterus, Taphozous, Nyctophilus, Scotorepens and Vespadelus). Palaeoecological analysis of the fossil taxa revealed that, unlike the non-volant mammal taxa, bats have remained essentially stable in terms of species diversity and community membership between the mid-Pleistocene rainforest habitat and the mesic habitat that occurs today in the region. The single major exception is Hipposideros semoni, which went locally extinct at Mount Etna. Additionally, while intensive mining operations resulted in the abandonment of at least one cave that served as a maternity roost in the recent past, the diversity of the Mount Etna bat fauna has not declined since European colonisation. The overall resilience through time of the bat species discussed herein is perhaps due to their unique ecological, behavioural, and physiological characteristics as well as their ability to fly, which have allowed them to successfully adapt to their changing environment. This study highlights the importance of palaeoecological analyses as a tool to gain an understanding of how bats have responded to environmental change in the past and provides valuable information for the conservation of threatened modern species, such as H. semoni.

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ID Code: 40979
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Webb, Gregory& Baker, Andrew
Keywords: bats, climate change, taxonomy, middle Pleistocene, Mount Etna, European colonisation, Australia, Hipposideros semoni
Divisions: Past > Schools > Biogeoscience
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 28 Mar 2011 15:14
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2011 06:01

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