Maputo — A species of bat, previously unknown to science, has been discovered in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, in the central province of Sofala.
A study published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society describes three new species of bats from southern Africa. One, with the scientific name Rhinolophus Gorongosae, is believed to occur only in Gorongosa National Park, and possibly on nearby Mount Mecula.
It is a horseshoe bat, but found to be genetically and morphologically distinct from neighbouring horseshoe bat populations. Weighing just five grams it is the smallest horseshoe bat known in Africa.
The other two new species are also found in Mozambique. Rhinolophus Rhodesiae has been confirmed to be a distinct species found in northern Mozambique and elsewhere in southern Africa.
The third species, Rhinolophus lobatus, is not exactly new. It was once believed to be identical to the west African bat R. Landeri, but further research has revealed that it is a separate species unique to Mozambique and South Africa. It now replaces R. Landeri on the species list for Mozambique.
One of the co-authors of the study, Jen Guyton, who is a Princeton University Ph.D. candidate working at Gorongosa National Park, said “we're thrilled to add two new bat species to the checklist for Mozambique. It's not often that new mammal species are described anymore, but genetic methods are revolutionising taxonomy, and allowing us to unearth a whole host of cryptic species”.
A second Gorongosa scientist, Piotr Naskrecki, associate director of the E.O. Wilson laboratory at the park, contributed to the study.
According to a press release from the Gorongosa Park, the team used a range of modern techniques ranging from acoustic analysis of bat echolocation calls to molecular DNA analysis, and morphological studies of parts of the skeleton.
The study was largely based on specimens collected in Gorongosa over the past five years and acoustic recordings of Gorongosa bats. The specimens and recordings, the release adds, “were collected as part of the E.O. Wilson Lab's annual biodiversity surveys, which seek to document all macroscopic flora and fauna in the Greater Gorongosa ecosystem”.
“Due to their provision of ecosystem services, high diversity and patterns of endemism, bats are of particular conservation concern”, the release says.
Bats are an extremely successful group of mammals. There are some 1,115 recognised species, which is 20 per cent of all mammalian species. The new species bring the number of known Mozambican bats to 71, and 45 of them occur in the Greater Gorongosa Ecosystem, which is more than the number of bat species (42) found in South Arica's Kruger National Park.
Much of Mozambique is still poorly explored, and since most bats are nocturnal it is difficult to be certain how many species a particular area contains. The authors of the study are therefore confident that more new bat species will be found in Mozambique.
Jen Guyton added “Gorongosa mountain, the southernmost fragment of Afromontane rainforest in the world, and Khodzue, the enormous limestone cave system within Gorongosa, where Rhinolophus gorongosae occurs, are biodiversity treasures for Africa”.
“This study highlights the importance of protected areas such as Gorongosa National Park to the survival of the world's biodiversity”, said Naskrecki. “Mozambique is quickly becoming one of the leaders in conservation of African biodiversity, and more discoveries like this one are expected”.
Gorongosa has become a flagship for Mozambican conservation. It was severely damaged during the war of destabilisation in the 1980s, and much of the population of large mammals was wiped out. But since 2004, the Mozambican government and the US not-for-profit organisation, the Carr Foundation, have been working to restore the park to its pre-war condition.