SA researchers confirm new bat species

The Cohen's Horseshoe Bat was discovered by Lientjie Cohen. (Paddy Ruback)

The Cohen’s Horseshoe Bat was discovered by Lientjie Cohen.

Cape Town – New bat species have been discovered in East and Southern Africa by researchers working at the University of Venda and Stellenbosch University.

One of the species, Cohen’s Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus cohenae) has been named after the South African discover, Lientjie Cohen.

“We now know that a total of five distinct species of large horseshoe bats occur in central and eastern Africa,” said Professor Peter Taylor of the University of Venda.

“Now we also know that Hildebrandt’s Horseshoe Bat, the species initially known to science, actually only occurs in East Africa.”

Work began in 1980 when researchers noted anomalies in bats found in Zimbabwe.

DNA studies

Cohen is a scientist with the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency and discovered the Cohen’s Horseshoe Bat in the Barberton Mountainlands Nature Reserve in 2004.

“We are naming this bat species after Ms Cohen to acknowledge her significant contribution toward the conservation and discovery of new bat species in South Africa, and particularly in Mpumalanga,” said Taylor.

Dr Samantha Stoffberg, a researcher in the Evolutionary Genomics Research Group of the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University carried out DNA studies to confirm the unique nature of the bats.

The other species are Smithers’ Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus smithersi), the Mozambican Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus mossambicus) and the Mount Mabu Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus mabuensis).

While the researchers examined the bats, they discovered additional surprises that confirm the classification of the species.

“These species are relatively old and evolved in the Pliocene Epoch over the past five to two million years,” said Dr Woody Cotterill of Stellenbosch University who assisted in the discovery.

“We suggest that because of climatic extremes and geomorphological changes across eastern Africa, the ancestors of these species were isolated on either mountain tops or along river valleys.”

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