A New UFS Research Group: The Mountain Bat Lab on the Qwaqwa Campus

In January 2021, Prof Peter Taylor, an NRF B2-rated mammologist and bat researcher, moved from the University of Venda, where he previously chaired the SARChI Chair on Biodiversity Value and Change, to set up the Mountain Bat Lab in the Department of Zoology and Entomology on the UFS Qwaqwa Campus. Prof Taylor, a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and a Fellow of the Linnean Society, has published some 180 peer-reviewed papers and six books on the taxonomy, ecology, and ecosystem services of African bats, rodents, and shrews. He has previously supervised 22 MSc and 16 PhD students, and nine postdoctoral fellows. He is also a Research Champion in the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU), which currently funds bursaries for his two PhD students, Veli Monday Mdluli and  Alexandra Howard, whose projects both focus on bats.

Working with a range of stakeholders, the Mountain Bat Lab aims to investigate the diversity of bats in the Eastern Free State where we, so far, have two cryptic endemic montane species of bats awaiting description. We are also investigating the role of bats as ecosystem service providers (through natural control of insect pests on apple orchards: Howard’s PhD) and as ecological indicators of land use change and climate change (through transects along elevational and land use gradients: Mdluli’s PhD). 

Our research involves engaged community participation and interdisciplinary aspects. We are working closely with Dr Bekithemba Dube in the UFS Faculty of Education to engage scholars (at four schools in Phuthaditjhaba) and farmers (on six apple farms) to probe and improve their perceptions about bats (and nature generally) and the positive role they play in the environment. Through an engaged scholarship approach, we have installed in total around 30 bat houses at four schools, on six farms, and in the nearby Clarens village. These will be used as educational and research tools to monitor occupancy by bats, firstly, and secondly, to obtain samples of the faecal pellets for diet analysis of the bats occupying the bat houses. These faecal samples will allow us to use both DNA and microscopic methods to establish the kind of insects that bats are feeding on, and which of these may be pests – not only crop pests, but also pests of human and livestock health.  Finally, these bat houses act as a demonstration tool for citizen science and engagement with the public to address human-wildlife conflict.

The Mountain Bat Lab is also leading a multistakeholder and interdisciplinary project on the biodiversity and ecological restoration of the underexplored Witsieshoek Community Conservation Area (a buffer area for the UNESCO Ukhahlamba World Heritage Site), in close collaboration with the managers of Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge (Transfrontier Parks Destinations), the Batlokoa Royal Council who owns the land, the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area (MD-TFCA), and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. So far, we have arranged two exciting ‘BioBlitz’ surveys in October 2021 and March 2022, involving colleagues from the departments of Zoology and Entomology and Plant Sciences at the UFS (Qwaqwa), as well as from a number of other institutions in South Africa and Eswatini, such as the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Eswatini, the University of Venda, the Agricultural Research Council, Rhodes University, the Albany Museum, and the National Museum in Bloemfontein. We are partnering closely with an international expert on rewilding, Dr Kyran Kunkel from the American Prairie Reserve and the University of Montana.
Our lab is excited to welcome Dr Andrinajoro Rakotoarivelo – a mammal conservationist and genomics expert – as a Contract Researcher under the ARU and its Risk and Vulnerability Science Centre, to lead the Witsieshoek Restoration Project and to support our PhD students and staff with the genetic and dietary analysis components of their research. With his Madagascan connections, he will also help to build a stronger Southern African community of practice for the ARU. 

Prof Taylor Monitoring Bat House

Prof Taylor (right) with his two PhD students (Monday and Alexandra) monitoring a bat house at one of the participating schools in Phuthaditjhaba

Monday introducing the Bat Education Project

Monday introducing the Bat Education Project to school children in Phuthaditjhaba

Monday installing a harp trap

Alexandra and Monday installing a harp trap to catch bats in a river gorge at Schaapplaats Farm near Clarens in December 2021

Setting up a Mist net

Peter (right), Joro (middle) and Monday (left) setting up a mist net during the first Witsieshoek Bioblitz in October 2021

Taking Biological Samples

Taking biological samples of small mammals


Elfrieda van den Berg (Marketing Manager)
T: +27 51 401 2531


Dilahlwane Mohono (Faculty Officer)
T: +27 58 718 5284

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