Bats of Saoura Valley in Algeria
By Hibat Ellah Loumassine, Benjamin Allegrini, Farid Bounaceur, Mohammed Lamine Bendjeddou and Stéphane Aulagnier
Algeria’s bat diversity was mostly studied in the Mediterranean range (Anciaux De Faveaux, 1976; Kowalski & Rzebik-Kowalska, 1991; Ahmim, 2017) until recent studies (Benjeddou et al., 2017; Farfar et al. 2017; Loumassine et al., 2017; 2018; Mokrani et al., 2018a,b) which throw light on bat distribution in the country. A recent 26th bat species was recorded in 2018 (Loumassine et al.). All bat species are legally protected since 2012 (Ministerial Decree no. 12-235 of May 24, 2012), but human activities, including agricultural practices, mining activities, rapid urbanization, water pollution, and the resultant desertification, have had deleterious impacts on bat habitats.
Bat fauna of arid regions is poorly studied mostly due to a lack of interest for areas with low species richness and densities. However, this fauna is highly specialized and deserves timely conservation measures.
The purpose of our study was to investigate bat diversity in the Saoura valley, an arid zone located in south-western Algeria, and collect the first ecological data thereof. We started by surveying some sites in the Bechar province, an administrative region of the Saoura valley, largely composed of mountainous areas including wetlands in the North, very dry regs (rocky deserts) and ergs (sandy deserts), mainly the Great Western Erg, in the South.
Three sites were sampled from the north to the south; Boukais, Bechar and Taghit oasis. Located in the north of the region, Boukais (31° 55’ 55.272’’ N 2° 27’ 27.179’’ O) is an open landscape characterized by the presence of a lake surrounded by some vegetation, mainly jujube trees, retams and few palm trees. Bechar (31° 37’ 56.316’’ N 2° 12’ 23.975’’ O) is a closed and urbanized habitat, entirely artificial with many streetlamps and buildings, surrounded by some palm trees. Taghit Oases (30° 55' 29,532" N 2° 1' 57.396" O) in the South are characterized by the presence of wells and ponds surrounded by dense vegetation, mainly palm trees, pomegranate trees, cotton and some rosaceae. The surveys were conducted using three methods: captures with mist nets set above waterholes or in the vegetation, echolocation call recording and roost search with the help of local people. When captured, each bat was sexed, measured and released. Ultrasound recordings were performed using a Pettersson D240x connected to an Edirol R05 recorder. Sounds were then analyzed with Batsound 4.2 software (Pettersson Elektronik, Uppsala, Sweden).
Ten bat species belonging to five families were identified: Hipposideridae (Asellia tridens), Rhinopomatidae (Rhinopoma cystops and R. microphyllum), Molossidae (Tadarida teniotis), Miniopteridae (Miniopterus schreibersii) and Vespertilionidae (Otonycteris hemprichii, Eptesicus isabellinus, Hypsugo savii, Pipistrellus kuhlii, including P. kuhlii kuhlii and P. kuhlii deserti, and Vansonia rueppellii). This is almost all the species that were expected in the area according to Kowalski & Rzebik-Kowalska (1991). We only missed Tadarida aegyptiaca, collected at Beni Abbès (Qumsiyeh 1985). Some rhinolophids and Plecotus gaisleri, which were reported from nearby Moroccan areas in the North (Aulagnier et al. 2017) were expected too. Several colonies of desert species (A. tridens, R. cystops and R. microphyllum) were previously found in caves (Loumassine et al. 2017, 2018).
Deserts and arid regions are generally perceived as bare and rather homogeneous areas of low diversity; however, small water bodies present mostly in mountains are associated with local biodiversity hotspots (Brito et al. 2014). Our data confirm that the Saoura valley should be considered such a hotspot, and therefore, a key area for bat conservation. Urgent measures are needed to protect the known roosts and manage the foraging habitats, particularly in oases.
Bats have been reported to be good indicators of a range of environmental changes (Jones et al., 2009), however, their role as indicators of habitat quality in arid environments is not fully understood. Besides, arid environments are affected by habitat degradation and are predicted to be significantly impacted by global warming and further desertification (Brito et al., 2014). Furthermore, bat surveys in the Algerian Sahara are long pending and would fill knowledge gaps of habitats in northern Algeria when studied. Hopefully acoustic studies would facilitate the development of monitoring programs with good conservation outcomes for Algeria.
We are grateful to Moussa Oulad Ali and his family for hosting us during field trips. We thank, Kamel Torki, Mohamed Malki, Rachid Djoumi, Si Mohamed Baglab, the residents of Taghit and Boukais for their help during this time.
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