Bats of Puerto Rico,Michael R. Gannon, Allen Kurta, Armando Rodriguez-Duran, Michael R. Willig Caribbean Journal of Science, Vol 41,No.4, 882-883, 2005

US$30 (s)

Bats are the most species rich and abundant of native Caribbean mammals, and studies of their distribution helped inspire such conceptual breakthroughs as the equilibrium theory of island biogeography (Koopman 1958). Some bats are keystone species because they sustain rich underground ecosystems by congregating in large numbers in cave colonies, while others pollinate flowers and disperse seeds, thus helping restore local forests. The people of the Caribbean have duly taken notice, including bats in the folktales and readily making use of their guano.

It is hard to envision a single field guide-style book to span decades of work on bat biology and at the same time provide insights into the natural history, landscape, and culture of Puerto Rico. Gannon and coauthors have accomplished just that. This book is welcome if only because the essential Los murciélagos de Cuba (Silva-Taboada 1979) is out of print and was published before most undergraduate students were even born. As it stands, Bats of Puerto Rico will likely become an instant classic among professional and amateur naturalists, and might even inspire a new wave of ecotourism to that part of the world.

The book begins by reviewing the natural history of Puerto Rico and, more generally, the ecological biogeography of the Caribbean region. Besides the typical treatment of species-area relationships, the introduction explores bat community ecology with unusual depth. The hypothesis that a core community of Antillean bats has been structured around food resources, while being shaped by hurricanes and the caves that provide shelter from them, is an original idea that some readers will encounter here for the first time (Rodríguez Durán and Kunz 2001). Right from the start the book is infused with a local perspective that is often lacking in field guides designed by and for foreign researchers. The advantages of this approach are apparent throughout, but they are more obvious in discussions on the role of bats in pre-Columbian and contemporary Puerto Rican culture.

The second chapter balances such investigations of the links between humans and bats with standard accounts of bat biology. Here the authors dismiss the myths surrounding bats, aiming to muster public support for bat protection. With zoonotic diseases making headlines, scientists must offer a rational account of the health risks associated with bat populations. The authors achieve this, although a sterner warning about preventive rabies immunization for people working with bats than “should consider” (p. 49) is warranted.

Read More