Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 151–173 | Cite as

Global Completeness of the Bat Fossil Record

  • Thomas P. EitingEmail author
  • Gregg F. Gunnell
Original Paper


Bats are unique among mammals in their use of powered flight and their widespread capacity for laryngeal echolocation. Understanding how and when these and other abilities evolved could be improved by examining the bat fossil record. However, the fossil record of bats is commonly believed to be very poor. Quantitative analyses of this record have rarely been attempted, so it has been difficult to gauge just how depauperate the bat fossil record really is. A crucial step in analyzing the quality of the fossil record is to be able to accurately estimate completeness. Measures of completeness of the fossil record have important consequences for our understanding of evolutionary rates and patterns among bats. In this study, we applied previously developed statistical methods of analyzing completeness to the bat fossil record. The main utility of these methods over others used to study completeness is their independence from phylogeny. This phylogenetic-independence is desirable, given the recent state of flux in the higher-level phylogenetic relationships of bats. All known fossil bat genera were tabulated at the geologic stage or sub-epoch level. This binning strategy allowed an estimate of the extinction rate for each bat genus per bin. Extinction rate—together with per-genus estimates of preservation probability and original temporal distributions—was used to calculate completeness. At the genus level, the bat fossil record is estimated to be 12% complete. Within the order, Pteropodidae is missing most of its fossil history, while Rhinolophoidea and Vespertilionoidea are missing the least. These results suggest that 88% of bats that existed never left a fossil record, and that the fossil record of bats is indeed poor. Much of the taxonomic and evolutionary history of bats has yet to be uncovered.


Chiroptera Completeness Fossil record Phylogeny-independent 



We thank N. Czaplewski, I. Horáček, J. Hutcheon, G. Morgan, K. Samonds, and N. Simmons for discussions or providing reprints. We appreciate comments from J. Wible and from an anonymous reviewer that greatly improved the quality of this manuscript. TE thanks G. Smith and D. Nelson, University of Michigan, for logistical support and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology for funds to attend the 2007 annual meeting.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, 221 Morrill Science Center SouthUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Museum of PaleontologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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