Vampire Bats Desmodus rotundus are among the most specialized and intelligent of all bat species. They are a rare example of a thriving specialized species, due to a man made increase in their food. The blood of large quadropedial mammals.
We are often asked to explain our name, “The Centre for the Conservation of Specialized Species”, and although we have considered changing it to something more “catchy”, we have kept it because we feel it truly describes the types of animals we work with at the Centre. For a brief period we experimented with the name "The Ontario Specialized Species Centre", but given that our animals come from all parts of the world, we felt it wasn't right for us. So we returned to being "The Centre for the Conservation of Specialized Species".
The term “specialized species” describes any species of animal or plant so highly adapted to it’s particular habitat, food source, climatic condition, etc. that if any of its particular requirements change that this species is then unable to adapt due to its high degree of specialization and it is therefore extremely vulnerable to population decline or extinction.
Polar bears Ursus maritimus and giant pandas Ailuropoda melanoleuca are two very well known examples of specialized species. Both of these species are uniquely adapted to their particular environments and both have suffered population declines at alarming rates. The polar bear is at great risk of extreme population decline due to the warming and subsequent loss of its arctic habitat. The giant panda now numbers only approximately 1,600 individuals due to habitat loss in the bamboo forests of Southeast Asia. In fact, large numbers of giant pandas die of starvation each time there is a major flowering and subsequent die off of the bamboo, their primary food source. Their habitat is so fragmented, due to human encroachment that they cannot manage to make it to fresh feeding grounds. Even if they could, sadly there is often no such fresh feeding grounds to be found, as all the bamboo flowers and dies simultaneously over large areas. Giant pandas are far too specialized to adapt to the sudden change and so they perish.
Another well known species that happens to also be highly specialized is the Koala Phascolarctos cinereus. Feeding upon the poisonous leaves of certain species of eucalyptus trees, they are very vulnerable to the loss of these trees and cannot adapt to any other diet.
However, the common American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos is at the opposite end of the species specialization scale. It is a very adaptable species and has managed to thrive despite man's profound influence upon its habitat.
Interestingly, on very rare occasions a particular species unique specialization actually counts in its favour when man made changes to its environment actually allow it to increase its numbers. Such is the case with the common vampire bat Desmodus rotundus. As rain forests are converted to farm land for cattle, vampire bats have increased their numbers due to the increase in their unique food source, that being the blood of large quadropedial mammals such as cattle.
Although the two main groups of animals we work with at the Centre are birds of prey and bats, not all are classified as critically endangered, the vast majority of these species are highly specialized and therefore subject to, at the minimum, localized population decline. However, many species of birds of prey are highly endangered, such as the California Condor Gymnogyps californianus and Philippine eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi just to name a few. Approximately 25% of all bat species are classified as endangered, including many pteropid or “flying fox” species native to Southeast Asia. Even seemingly common species, such as the Red Tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis, can easily suffer population decline on a local level when changes occur within its habitat.
Virtually all species of birds of prey, from the smallest falcon to the largest eagle, are what is referred to as “apex” predators. Sitting precariously atop their respective food pyramids, which means that their populations are naturally low. Any changes to their habitat, food availability, etc. can have a devastating effect on their populations, which are very slow to recover.
Although bats, (chiroptera) are the second most widespread order of mammal on earth, rodents (rodentia) being the most widespread), each individual species is highly adapted to a particular “niche” within their respective ecosystem. In addition, bats have a very low reproductive rate for such a small animal. They do not normally have the large population fluctuations whereas many species of similar sized small animals naturally do. Their high degree of specialization to a particular habitat coupled with their very low birth rate, puts bats in a perfect situation for rapid population decline, and when bat species decline it is normally an indication of an unhealthy ecosystem. Bats are commonly referred to as an “indicator” species, very much like honey bees and amphibians.
It is important to remember that the population of every extinct species was once stable. Research has shown that extinctions do occur naturally. That said, we are now losing species at an unprecedented and alarming rate, and in some areas of the world, this loss of biodiversity is actually increasing in speed. We are approaching a dangerous threshold of no return where our worlds ecosystems could crash and then we would find ourselves the next endangered species!
Many people are unaware that over 80% of the worlds fauna and flora species have yet to even be accurately scientifically identified!. Many are becoming extinct even before this has ever had a chance to happen. Its entirely possible that the cure for cancer has already become extinct and no one is even aware of it yet! We simply cannot afford the present extinction rate for, so many reasons.
At the Centre, we feel it is incumbent upon humanity to do everything within our power to try and ensure our planets precious biodiversity.
For more information about specialized species and how the Centre is helping promote conservation, please feel free to contact uswith any questions you may have.
If you have found an injured bird of prey (hawk, falcon, owl, etc.), contact the Centre and our experienced staff can assist in determining what steps should be taken to ensure the bird receives the best possible care.
Havelock, Ontario K0L 1Z0
Telephone : +1 705 778 5273
Email : staff