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Bat Conservation

Bats remain some of the most cryptic and mysterious mammals on earth. However, as Jones et al. (2009) point out, bats ‘form some of the largest non-human aggregations of mammals, and may be among the most abundant groups of mammals when measured in numbers of individuals.’ Indeed bats make up more than 20% of all the world’s mammal species.

Its is believed that bats have existed on Earth in their present form for over 52 million years, and have diversified over time into at least 1,232 species. These are found spread over every continent in the world except Antarctica. However, despite being among the most diverse and widely dispersed group of mammals, bats are also undoubtedly some of the most threatened. In recent years, studies have highlighted an alarming decline in worldwide bat populations, with several species thought to have now become extinct. Indeed, according to Mickleburgh et al. (2002), 12 species of bats are now officially categorized as extinct, 29 as critically endangered, 36 as endangered, 173 as vulnerable and 212 near threatened. The reasons for the recent drastic declines in bat populations are complex and manifold, and include factors such as habitat loss or modification, roost site destruction or disturbance, pollution, persecution, disease and climate change. 

Not only is there is still much to be discovered about bats in terms of distribution, status, biology and ecology, but bat surveys and research have the potential to offer important ecological insights into key contemporary ecological problems such as climate change and habitat modification. The fact is, bats are important, not simply as fascinating animals in their own right, but also for the crucial environmental roles and eco-system services they fulfil as plant pollinators, seed dispersers, pest suppressors and nutrient providers.

Of the 43 species of bats known from Europe, 31 species of bats have been recorded in the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains, making the Rodopi one of the most important regions for bats in Europe. Many of the most important bat caves are well-known and studied, but its not only the caves of the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains which are crucial for the conservation of bats in the region. The forests, rivers, reservoirs, traditional architecture and invertebrate-rich meadows all play their roles in making the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains such an important haven for bats, and all need to be considered in terms of bat conservation and research.