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Communally breeding Bechstein's bats have a stable social system that is independent from the postglacial history and location of the populations

Authors


Gerald Kerth, Fax: 004 121 692 4165; E-mail: gerald.kerth@unil.ch

Abstract

Investigating macro-geographical genetic structures of animal populations is crucial to reconstruct population histories and to identify significant units for conservation. This approach may also provide information about the intraspecific flexibility of social systems. We investigated the history and current structure of a large number of populations in the communally breeding Bechstein's bat (Myotis bechsteinii). Our aim was to understand which factors shape the species’ social system over a large ecological and geographical range. Using sequence data from one coding and one noncoding mitochondrial DNA region, we identified the Balkan Peninsula as the main and probably only glacial refugium of the species in Europe. Sequence data also suggest the presence of a cryptic taxon in the Caucasus and Anatolia. In a second step, we used seven autosomal and two mitochondrial microsatellite loci to compare population structures inside and outside of the Balkan glacial refugium. Central European and Balkan populations both were more strongly differentiated for mitochondrial DNA than for nuclear DNA, had higher genetic diversities and lower levels of relatedness at swarming (mating) sites than in maternity (breeding) colonies, and showed more differentiation between colonies than between swarming sites. All these suggest that populations are shaped by strong female philopatry, male dispersal, and outbreeding throughout their European range. We conclude that Bechstein's bats have a stable social system that is independent from the postglacial history and location of the populations. Our findings have implications for the understanding of the benefits of sociality in female Bechstein's bats and for the conservation of this endangered species.

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