Speaker Series 2016: Fossils of the Night – The History of Bats Through Time

Bats represent one in every five species of mammals in the world — there are at least 1,300 living species of bats. Not only are bats diverse, but they can be remarkably abundant with some species living in colonies that number in the millions of individuals. Bats are also geographically widespread. They are known from all continents except Antarctica. The fossil record of bats is both spectacular and disappointing. Spectacular in that some fossil bat species are known from beautifully preserved skeletons; disappointing because only a small percentage of what was almost certainly a very large radiation is preserved in the fossil record. Over 100 fossil bat species have been described known only as fossils. If fossil representatives of living genera and species are included, then that number soars to nearly 600 species known as fossils.

In his talk, Dr. Gregg Gunnell from Duke University explores the origins of bats taxonomically, temporally, and geographically. Some of the oldest bats are also among the best known, often being represented by nearly complete skeletons; however, all of these early archaic forms do not belong to any living bat group. It is nearly five- million years after the first bats appear that the first species representing crown group bat families can be recognized. Climate change, in conjunction with changes in food resource distribution and abundance, will be explored as possible explanations for the rapid Palaeogene diversification and diffusion of bats across the globe.

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