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Surveys of flora and fauna may be flawed

By Hari Krishnan

London, Dec 14 (ANI): A new study has determined that one of the most common techniques for diagnosing the ecological health of a region may be painting an inaccurate picture of biodiversity.

According to a report in Nature News, the finding is based on the study of the bats on the tiny volcanic island of Montserrat in Catalonia.

To understand an area's ecology, researchers are often asked by funding agencies to conduct a short survey, known as a rapid biodiversity assessment.

An ongoing study on Montserrat is yielding data that suggest these short-term surveys may not always paint an accurate picture.

Montserrat was devastated by Hurricane Hugo in September 1989, causing near total defoliation of the island.

Ecologist Scott Pedersen at South Dakota State University in Brookings and his colleagues captured some of the island's bats in mist nets before and after the hurricane and found a 10-fold decrease in the population.

They further noted that the composition of the bat community shifted from small fruit-eating species to more omnivorous and larger fruit-eating species.

Over 30 years of using the same mist-netting method to capture and analyse bat populations, Pedersen has seen as few as four species and as many as ten on the island at any one time.

The findings show that short-term surveys could be misleading ecologists.

"Several species seem to come and go and I ask myself, is this migration? No.

Is this extinction? No. What is actually happening is that as populations fluctuate over time, they simply become rare enough to become 'temporarily invisible' to our human biases and technology," Pedersen said.

"If this is the case in the pocket-sized system we are studying, then I really don't know what to make of all the rapid biodiversity surveys taking place in larger habitats like Amazonia," he added.

"Unquestionably, long-term research studies are lacking in nearly every ecosystem," said Jeff Foster, an ecologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

"The problem is that we do not know how much spending is going into rapid assessment programmes and whether long-term studies are being underfunded because of this allocation," he added. (ANI)

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