Composition and structure of Caribbean bat (Chiroptera) assemblages: effects of inter-island distance, area, elevation and hurricane-induced disturbance


*Correspondence: Steven J. Presley, Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of Connecticut, 3107 Horsebarn Hill Road, Storrs, CT 06269-4210, USA. E-mail:


Aim  Although bats of the Caribbean have been studied extensively, previous work is largely restricted to zoogeography, phylogeography or the effects of island characteristics on species richness. Variation among islands in species composition that is related to geographical or environmental variation remains poorly understood for much of the Caribbean.

Location  Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas, Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles.

Methods  Using presence–absence data, we assessed the extent to which island area, maximum island elevation, inter-island distance and hurricane-induced disturbance affected patterns of composition and nestedness for bats in the Bahamas, Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles. Analyses were conducted for all species, as well as for two broadly defined guilds: carnivores and herbivores.

Results  For the Bahamas, only inter-island distance accounted for variation in species composition between islands. For the Greater and Lesser Antilles, differences in island area and inter-island distance accounted for differences in species composition between islands. Variation in species composition was not related significantly to differences in elevation or hurricane-related disturbance. In general, results of analyses restricted to a particular broad guild (i.e. carnivores or herbivores) mirrored those for all bats. Bat species composition was nested significantly in each island group. Nestedness was stronger in the Greater Antilles and in the Lesser Antilles than in the Bahamas. Carnivore assemblages were nested significantly in the Greater and in the Lesser Antilles, but not in the Bahamas. In contrast, herbivore assemblages were nested significantly in each island group.

Main conclusions  Inter-island distance had a greater effect on compositional similarity of Caribbean bat assemblages than did island area, elevation or disturbance related to hurricanes. Differential immigration and hierarchical habitat distributions associated with elevational relief are likely to be primary causes for nestedness of Caribbean bat assemblages.