Habitat banking supports long-term habitat preservation in Colombia


By Kristen Pope. Information provided by Dr. Jon Flanders.

If you were to design a paradise for bats, Colombia’s Karst Corridor of Eastern Antioquia (CoKOA) would be it. This batty oasis is home to more than 55 species of diverse species. You’ll find nectarivorous, frugivorous, insectivorous, and carnivorous species in the region, as well as vampire bats and even a species of fishing bats. The karst corridor contains at least 66 known caves, and includes many areas where clear water flows—perfect bat habitat.

Team members from Colombia and BCI survey sections of the karst corridor that serve as habitat for the Antioquian sac-winged bat. This habitat is under pressure from the mining industry. MGambaRios

One of the bats that resides in this corridor is the endemic,  Endangered Antioquian sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx antioquensis), which only became known to science in 2001. After the initial sighting, the species wasn’t identified again for nearly 20 years! However, this mysterious bat is of great interest to biologists who want to study its interesting habits, including its very social nature with males singing to groups of females while marking them with pheromones. 

Unfortunately, this bat paradise is threatened by human activity. The region is a hotspot for limestone and marble mining, with more than 95 mining concessions in CoKOA. Mining degrades wildlife habitat in a number of ways, including damaging the karst formations and impacting the water systems and quality. Other land uses, such as cattle farming and timber mining, can make the habitat even less ideal for bats and other wildlife.

Dr. Solari and his student Leidy López-Sepúlveda set up mist nests to monitor a site previously used by Antioquian sac-winged bats. MGambaRios.

In order to provide sweeping landscape-level protections for bats that rely on this critical habitat, BCI is working with local partners on a conservation strategy called habitat banking. This multi-pronged effort involves an immense amount of collaboration between government entities, nonprofits, and businesses, and works to preserve tracts of land for decades at a time.

The process of habitat banking first involves learning about the bat species in the area and their habitat needs, then identifying high-priority areas for conservation. These are typically areas that include several caves and are minimally degraded. Interested landowners in these areas collaborate on strategies to protect the habitat, with incentives for landowners to participate. Contracts and management plans are drawn up, and the areas can then be officially registered with the government. Businesses and private entities can then purchase credits to protect biodiversity in these areas. In Colombia, some businesses are even required to purchase land credits to offset the environmental toll of their businesses. However people decide to participate in habitat banking, it is a great way to give back to bats.

BCI plans on working with partners in the CoKOA region of Colombia to use habitat banking in hopes of saving the Endangered Antioquian sac-winged bat, among other species in the area. BCI also plans on taking this strategy around the world and using it in other places to save other bats species around the globe. 

Learn more: https://digital.batcon.org/issue/volume-42-issue-3/habitat-banking-for-bats/


Jon Flanders, Ph.D.

Director, Endangered Species Interventions

Jon Flanders, Ph.D. – Director, Endangered Species Interventions

Dr. Jon Flanders is responsible for leading conservation initiatives that effectively address BCI’s global conservation priorities. With over 20 years of experience working on conservation projects across the globe, Jon recognizes the importance of partnerships in delivering social, environmental and economic benefits. Working with a range of organizations, from small non-profits to government departments he can strategically prioritize projects that balance conservation needs with sustainability.

Jon received his Ph.D. from the University of Bristol where he integrated investigations of the ecology, diet, and population genetics of the greater horseshoe bat to advance its conservation. Prior to joining BCI, Jon had worked extensively across Asia and Central America leading a variety of conservation-related research projects, as well as teaching workshops and outreach efforts for local researchers and students. 

Jon is an Adjunct Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University and a Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History. 

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