Conference plenary – Brock Fenton

Today is another day with a guest post by a plenary speaker at the 6th International Barcode of Life Conference.

Brock FentonBrock Fenton received his Ph.D. in 1969 for work in the ecology and behaviour of bats. Since then he has held academic positions at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada 1969 to 1986), York University (Toronto, Canada 1986 to 2003) and the University of Western Ontario (2003 to present). He has published over 200 papers in refereed journals (most of them about bats), as well as numerous nontechnical contributions.  He has written four books about bats intended for a general audience (Just bats 1983, University of Toronto Press; Bats 1992 – revised edition 2001 Facts On File Inc; and The bat: wings in the night sky 1998, Key Porter Press; Fenton and Simmons 2015 Bats: a world of science and mystery Univ of Chicago press). He continues his research on the ecology and behaviour of bats, with special emphasis on echolocation and evolution. He currently is an Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada. He was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC) in November 2014.

Among mammals, the ~1260 living species of bats places them glossphaga at kabob
second only to rodents in diversity. In terms of trophic roles, bats are arguably among the most diverse of mammals, with species that eat insects, plant products, blood, and other vertebrates. By the Middle Eocene there were at least 10 families of bats, many of them persisting today. The results of DNA barcode analysis have shed light on the diversity of bats, the specifics of their diets, as well as the trophic roles they play in ecosystems.  These data bases open our eyes to new possibilities about the origin and diversification of bats.

DSC_7466One important unanswered question is the possible role of competitive interactions among sympatric species of bats. Results from DNA barcode analysis reveals a great diversity of species eaten by bats. The results also reveal little overlap in diet among sympatric species, even those gleaning prey in the same areas at the same time.  This could mean that in the past there was competition among sympatric species, but it also could imply that the diversity of insects translates into an abundance of food.  Knowing the species of insects a bat has eaten in turn allows us to assess the effectiveness of insects’ hearing-based defenses directed against bats.

The precision of DNA barcode analyses also has revealed that somebest glossophaga bats previously thought to be nectar-feeders (for example) are more broadly connected in the ecosystem, reflecting a diet that includes fruit and insects.  In field observations and experiments also provide evidence of previously undescribed plant structures that attract bats to flowers with nectar.

In short, DNA barcode analyses have provided people who study many aspects of bat biology with new data sets and new avenues for research.