Co-written by Yogishah Ashmi Bunsy, Aicha Djame, Begoña Iñarritu & Grace Waiguchu.
For several reasons, the availability of information regarding biodiversity varies considerably over space, time, taxa, and types of data, which could lead to knowledge gaps in certain areas. Despite representing a fifth of mammalian biodiversity, with over 1400 species now identified, bats are often misunderstood and undervalued. Given a large amount of lacking information about many bat species, implementing bat conservation measures is still a big challenge.
Most of the Afro-tropical bat species are unknown to the general public and there is very limited information about them on the internet. Most people are not aware of the diversity of bat species that exist and their importance in different ecosystems. This information gap stresses the urgent need for providing access to information to improve online public knowledge of bats. Therefore, for our group project that was carried out during the first course promoted by Global South Bats in Kenya in 2020, we decided to investigate different online access platforms and review how much information is available for each bat species that we caught during the course on each of the platforms we selected. The process of the project was truly an eye-opener for us.
During the course, we studied about 20 bat species, which occurred at the Jacaranda Hotel, Diani Bay Resort, Shimoni Caves, and the Fikirini Three Sisters Caves in Kwale County, Kenya. To accomplish our assignment, we worked with the ten most commonly used open-access online platforms where the general public could easily access information. These were: Wikipedia, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Encyclopedia of Life (EoL), Map of Life (MoL), iNaturalist, OneZoom, GBIF, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), Bat Names and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) website. For each species, we compiled available data from these online platforms based on specific attributes including diagnostic traits (taxonomy), diet, distribution, conservation status, reproduction, ecology, threats, image, and references. This information served as the backbone, and we chose to generate a heat map to show our results. Species not evaluated or having no information at all were assigned a white color, those with 1-2 attributes, red color for insufficient information, yellow color for those having up to 6 attributes, and green for those with more than 7 attributes. This was the result:
Our heat map shows that only 35% of the data that we searched for is available on the Wikipedia page of our 20 study species. The platforms OneZoom, iNaturalist, and MoL link their information source to Wikipedia. The Kenya Wildlife Service website has no information on bats and the Bat Names website, which is very specific to bats, is still in the early stages and lacks information for most of the species we searched. However, this lack of information is partially explained by taxonomic changes. For example, for many bat species that have been recently taxonomically split or reallocated, their respective information may not be missing entirely, but just assigned to a different species or genus name. This might be a plausible explanation for why Macronycteris species had practically no information on the majority of platforms because until recently they were both in the genus Hipposideros. Another plausible cause of this knowledge gap may be the lack of financial and institutional support that hinders the proper updating of bat information on online open-access platforms.
The majority of species analyzed had some information on the IUCN website. Of the species sampled, 80% are listed as least concern on IUCN. Two of the species (Nycteris thebaica and Miniopterus minor) are data deficient, Macronycteris vittatus is listed as Near Threatened and Taphozorus hildegardeae is listed as Vulnerable. Scotophilus hirundo has no information on IUCN – again, possibly due to recent taxonomic splits within the Scotophilus genus. Four of the other open-access platforms linked to the IUCN website, so we can consider it as a go-to and reliable source for biodiversity data.
The unequal distribution of biodiversity data across the globe, particularly the lack of details in biodiversity-rich regions, is a fact that has been repeatedly reported. Among the objectives of the Global South Bats network is to make efforts to ensure that information on bats is uploaded continuously in online platforms. Importantly, the information gaps in these platforms do not necessarily reflect taxonomic changes or mean that there is no scientific information uploaded or that the data doesn´t exist. We hypothesized that much information on bats is in scientific journals, with the usual scientific jargon. This way of delivering information has a limited audience and does not really suit the public community. Our results showed Wikipedia and EoL are highly re-linked, so we decided to feed and edit the Wikipedia page since it is widely known and accessed. Our group also selected the species that had the least information online, Macronycteris gigas, and made an infographic using the information in published scientific literature, books, and reports:
We hope you enjoy it and we look forward to sharing more soon!