Date:June 29, 2013

Taxonomy and Systematics

Accurate species identifications are fundamental to biogeography, community ecology, biodiversity assessments and conservation biology. Although the majority of Southeast Asian bat species were described in the 19th and early 20th Century, there has been a dramatic increase in rate of discovery in the last few decades, indicating that true species richness may be substantially higher than the currently recognized 330 species. The description of 16 species in the last 9 years reflects renewed survey effort in the region, multifaceted survey approaches, exploration of previously unstudied areas, greater research intensity at established sites, detailed reviews of museum collections, and the increasing use of molecular techniques.

Research Need and Justification: Despite the rise in species descriptions, the taxonomy and systematics of many Southeast Asian bat species remains uncertain, and one of the biggest challenges to the advancement of bat taxonomy in the region has been constraints imposed by political boundaries. Taxonomic resolution consequently requires mechanisms for multi-national collaboration among researchers that can coordinate taxonomic and systematic efforts across Southeast Asia. Many studies are hindered by lack of access to specimens for comparative purposes, or by lack of appropriately preserved tissue samples (e.g., wing punches) from parts of species ranges that fall outside the home countries of individual researchers.  Efforts are further hampered by the lack of young, in-country researchers trained in taxonomy/systematics and compounded by limited access to taxonomic literature needed for species revisions or descriptions.

Global Actions: (1) Collate data on collections across the region; (2) provide training in taxonomic and systematic techniques; (3) develop a digital taxonomic library open to any SE Asian bat researcher; (4) collate and develop image library of type specimens.

Needs Assessment: (1) Centralized database with online data capture interface to input and manage collections information; (2) graduate training and workshops to train young researchers, and to provide a venue to compare collections material; (3) greater access to the taxonomic literature, particularly historical accounts not available in online journals; (4) access to high-quality images of type specimens of SE Asian bat species.

Projected Outputs: (1) Database of collected material across Southeast Asia including information on where material is stored and contact information for visiting museums or borrowing specimens; (2) multi-national collaborations on taxonomic revisions and phylogenetic studies of widespread groups; (3) fostering a new generation of Southeast Asian taxonomists and systematists trained in modern field, museum, and laboratory techniques; (4) a digital taxonomic library; (5) digital library of images of type specimens of bats from SE Asia.