Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Cautionary tales in reconstructing the evolutionary history of island bats


Biology Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Life Sciences


Bats represent some of the most dramatic natural dispersal events among mammals, with representative taxa inhabiting most continental and oceanic islands. Within these island systems, commonly-asked phylogeographic questions investigate aspects of the evolutionary history of populations: Where did the island populations disperse from? How many dispersal events occurred and when? What was the direction of dispersal? Questions of conservation relevance may also be of concern in many island systems: To what extent do island populations exchange alleles with source population(s) or with other island populations? How diverse are island populations? Coalescent-based phylogeographic analyses have been applied to answer these questions in several systems. These powerful analyses demand judicious application, as they can be positively misleading when misused. Here, we review some cautionary tales learned from analyses of Hawaiian lasiurines, Caribbean Pteronotus, and Malagasy Triaenops and Myzopoda. These studies demonstrate that model choice is extremely important. The flexibility permitted by approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) approaches makes available a wealth of diverse models, but also demands that researchers think creatively when considering models to test and that we collect sufficient data to test parameter-rich models. In island systems, it is also important to sample multiple source populations and to consider the possibility that the direction of dispersal might not be easily predicted. These examples illustrate the power of this approach, but also illustrate the need for a thoughtful application of analyses.

Conference Name

International Conference on Bat Research

Conference Location

San Jose, Costa Rica

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