Dramatic decline in bat species richness in Singapore, with implications for Southeast Asia

David J.W. Lane, Tigga Kingston, Benjamin P.Y.H. Lee

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65 Scopus citations


Literature searches and recent surveys of the bat fauna of Singapore indicate that of the 24 species of Microchiroptera and six species of Megachiroptera documented for this small equatorial island just 15 and 5, respectively, are still present. These recorded declines in chiropteran species richness almost certainly understate the true losses as extensive land transformation/habitat loss (>95%) and biota loss occurred early in Singapore's colonial history before comprehensive surveys of bats were made. In an effort to reconstruct the pre-settlement bat fauna, we inferred an upper bound of pre-settlement species richness using a checklist from a well-known bat assemblage in neighbouring Peninsular Malaysia, and a lower bound based on species common to Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra. The Singapore records were compared with these two species list predictions. Based on this analysis, we infer that between 60 and 72 species would have inhabited Singapore before 1819. We also estimate that between 33% (based on the confirmed inventory) and 72% of the species (based on the upper-bound estimate of species richness) are now locally extinct. For Microchiroptera the data suggest that the documented local extinction rate of 38% may project to between 69% and 75%. Forest-dependant bats are particularly affected and comprise a much lower proportion of the bat fauna than is seen in intact forest in Peninsular Malaysia. All hipposiderids and 40% of the documented rhinolophid taxa have been lost and almost half (6) of the surviving microchiropteran species are locally endangered. Projected local extinction rates for Megachiroptera raise the documented value (17%) to about 60%, with most of the survivors being widespread species known to forage in cultivated or secondary forest habitats or to commute long distances between fragmented resources. The dramatic decline in Singapore bat species richness and a concomitant change in chiropteran guild and trophic structure (Microchiroptera vs. Megachiroptera) reflect patterns of diversity change seen elsewhere in the region in response to loss of forest habitat. In Singapore, the decline in diversity (species richness and abundances) for both mega- and microbats may also relate to urbanisation and deliberate or accidental destruction of bats and their roost sites in a land that has one of the highest human population densities on the planet. Although these losses (actual and inferred) represent a microcosm of mainly local extinctions, a wider geographical extrapolation over the 21st century indicates that heavy deforestation in progress in Southeast Asia might be expected to lead to extinction of many bat taxa, with upper-bound estimates of regional species losses exceeding 40% and global extirpation anticipated for at least 23% of Southeast Asia's bat fauna by 2100.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)584-593
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Bats
  • Diversity
  • Extinction
  • Singapore
  • Southeast Asia


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