1 Introduction

Individuals have formed groups to address conservation issues for decades, but with the application of network theory to social settings, we can now gain insights on the consequence of the structure of conservation-oriented groups for group function. Networks comprise nodes that are linked together by some form of interaction. In social networks, nodes (or actors) are typically individuals, but they may also be groups or entities in their own right, linked by relationships that typically reflect socially oriented values such as friendship, reputation, altruism, and reciprocity (Fig. 17.1).

Fig. 17.1
figure 1

A simple social network. Circles are nodes (or actors) connected to one another by links (straight lines), also called vectors. Links may be bi- or unidirectional and can be weighted by the strength of the connection between nodes, depicted here by link thickness. Bidirectional links may differ in strength (weight) with direction, for example, if a local coordinator in a bat conservation network commonly sends more information out than she receives, but this has been omitted for clarity. The number of links connected to a node is the degree centrality, shown here within each node. The mean degree for this network is 2.67, and the network density is 0.24 (16/66)

Conservation networks link actors involved in conservation activities across space (Guerrero et al. 2013). A network may be specifically formed to address a management objective, or arise organically and informally through stakeholder interactions. Interest in network approaches to conservation and natural resource governance (e.g., Bodin and Prell 2011) has been precipitated by the growing realization that top-down centralized approaches often fail to engage stakeholders, are rarely adaptive to local conditions, and as a consequence often fail to achieve sustainable conservation outputs (Bodin and Crona 2009). Regardless of the specific issue, conservation networks have three implicit objectives: (i) The network builds social capital [information, resources, knowledge, connections held by the group (Putnam 2000) or individual actors (Portes 1998)] (Newman and Dale 2007); (ii) the network strengthens relationships among activities in a system such that their common effectiveness is enhanced (coordination —Hessels 2013); and (iii) that the increase in social capital and coordination will have agency (Newman and Dale 2007), i.e., ability of a group to turn social capital derived from the network into conservation action.

Bat conservation may be facilitated by network approaches for several reasons. First, conservation networks can be particularly effective in dealing with issues operating at multiple spatial and temporal scales and thereby preventing mismatches between the scale at which conservation actions are undertaken and that of the problem (Guerrero et al. 2013). Bat conservation is susceptible to scale mismatches in both space and time. From a geographical perspective, coordinated effort across political boundaries may be required to ensure species’ protection across their entire range and to manage migratory species. The Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (UNEP EUROBATS ), which came into force in 1994, was set up under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) , precisely for these reasons. Thirty-five of the 63 range states have acceded to the Agreement, which aims to protect all 52 species of European bats. In the Paleotropics, larger Pteropodidae are known to move across borders [e.g., Eidolon helvum (Richter and Cumming 2008), Pteropus spp. (Epstein et al. 2009; Breed et al. 2010)], while the continuous north–south latitudinal orientation of the Americas has promoted seasonal migration across borders in several genera (Popa-Lisseanu and Voigt 2009). Stable taxonomy is essential for conservation (Tsang et al. 2016) and similarly may require international cooperation to resolve taxonomic conundrums and test systematic hypotheses of taxa distributed across multiple countries (e.g., Ith et al. 2011). Commercial trade in Pteropus spp. for human consumption and traditional medicine has imperiled many species, particularly in the Pacific Islands and western Indian Ocean Islands (Mickleburgh et al. 2009; Mildenstein et al. 2016). Although one Acerodon and 10 species of Pteropus are listed under Appendix I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the remainder together with Acerodon spp. on Appendix II (June 2014), illegal trade will likely continue without coordinated international enforcement among parties.

From a temporal standpoint, because bats are long-lived (Wilkinson and South 2002) decades of observations/monitoring may be required to detect population numbers responding to disturbance or management (Meyer et al. 2010). Moreover, long-term efforts deploying standardized methods across funding cycles and staff turnover require substantial training and coordination. The UK’s National Bat Monitoring Programme was established in 1996, but it took a further 15 years of work before statistically robust population trends could be estimated, and then for “only” 10/11 of the UK’s 17 breeding species (Barlow et al. 2015). The enormous citizen science effort is spearheaded and coordinated by the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) , a network of 100+ local bat groups. In addition, long-term social or political change may be needed to address particular threats to bats, particularly if the threat is embedded in cultural practices or superstitious beliefs (Kingston 2016).

Second, the social capital and coordination brought by a network approach are important because bats are so diverse taxonomically and ecologically that few practitioners can hold knowledge of more than a handful of species; most researchers are taxonomically or geographically limited. Similarly, varied skill sets are required to garner the basic knowledge that underpins conservation efforts (e.g., taxonomy, ecology, acoustics, genetics and phylogenetics, population monitoring, disease ecology, outreach/engagement, policy), and many issues require an integrative approach to conservation action. Finally, bat research expertise is patchily distributed in many parts of the world, residing in particular institutes within countries, or absent entirely from some countries. Connecting experts through a network accelerates both knowledge transfer among them and the development of capacity in underrepresented areas.

Given the potential for networks to coordinate and strengthen bat conservation, it is not surprising that several bat networks have evolved over the last 25 years. The purpose of this chapter is to review the structure and function of existing bat conservation networks and to discuss the ways in which application of social network theory might strengthen existing networks, facilitate the establishment of new networks, and ultimately guide efforts to link regional networks into a global network of networks.

2 Existing Bat Conservation Networks

We focus our review on networks that have conservation as a primary mission and that encompass two or more countries, namely Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (UNEP EUROBATS) ; the Australasian Bat Society (ABS) ; Bat Conservation Africa (BCA) ; BatLife Europe ; BCT ; Chiroptera Conservation and Information Network of South Asia (CCINSA) ; North American Bat Conservation Alliance (NABCA) ; Red Latinoamericana para la Conservación de los Murciélagos (Latin American Bat Conservation Network) (RELCOM ); and Southeast Asian Bat Conservation Research Unit (SEABCRU) (Table 17.1, Fig. 17.2). We recognize that there are a growing number of very active national networks (e.g., Asian Bat Research Institute, Bat Association of Taiwan, Bat Study and Conservation Group of Japan, and Indian Bat Conservation Research Unit), as well as NGOs such as Bat Conservation International (BCI) and the Lubee Bat Conservancy , discussed in Racey (2013). The IUCN Bat Specialist Group has a global network structure, but its primary role is to provide member expertise to the IUCN in support of Red List assessments and the development of Action Plans (e.g., Mickleburgh et al. 1992; Hutson et al. 2001). In addition, the North American Society for Bat Research (NASBR) is a large and active network, but the Society’s mission is the promotion and development of the scientific study of bats, which it achieves by organizing an annual symposium. Although scientific study extends to conservation and public education, and the society puts forth resolutions on conservation issues, conservation is not the primary focus of the network, so is not included in this review. Together, our focal eight conservation networks unite bat researchers and conservation practitioners in over 130 countries, but major gaps persist and geographical coverage within networks is heterogeneous. Despite active national groups in Japan and Taiwan, as a region East Asia lacks coverage, as does Central Asia, the Middle East (although Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are included as range states within EUROBATS and BatLife Europe), and much of the Russian Federation.

Table 17.1 Summary information for existing bat conservation networks
Fig. 17.2
figure 2

Map of the world with coverage provided by existing bat conservation networks. Countries that are not within a network are filled with light pink. Note that some networks require active membership of nations, so countries may fall within the geographic scope of a network but not be members (RELCOM , EUROBATS, BatLife Europe). For networks based on individual membership, geographic scope is illustrated (BCA, CCINSA, SEABCRU, ABS). Network acronyms as in Table 17.1

2.1 Commonalities of Existing Networks

2.1.1 Origins and Activities

Most of the networks were founded as a response to the prevalence and intensity of threats to bat populations, lack of scientific knowledge about bats to support conservation action and changes to public policy, and to combat the contribution of public antipathy or ignorance to bat conservation issues. The common overarching goal in all cases is to halt declines and support sustainable populations. To achieve this goal, common foci or organizational themes are research, education/outreach, and conservation. In regions with few bat researchers, or high variance in expertise, research also encompasses building local academic and sometimes volunteer capacity to implement research, typically through workshops and development and sharing of guidance documents (e.g., CCINSA , RELCOM , SEABCRU , BatLife Europe , EUROBATS ).

Most networks see themselves as providing a regional organizational framework, guiding or coordinating local activities, and facilitating transboundary communication and capacity building. They aim to realize broader-scale impacts and identify priorities for action at larger scales (NABCA, SEABCRU, RELCOM , BatLife Europe, EUROBATS). Several networks are also instigating, or already implementing, region-wide initiatives, with particular focus on surveying and monitoring populations (BCT, NABCA, RELCOM , SEABCRU, BatLife Europe), data collation and storage (SEABCRU, BatLife Europe, BCT), and evaluation and priority-setting of species, habitats, and threats (all).

Several networks play a direct role in policy development and implementation. In some cases, individuals or groups representing the network act as advisors to governments, in others the network directly lobbies decision makers. Because of its conspicuous foundation in published science and other scientific activities, the ABS has had a strong advisory role at all levels of Government in Australia, having major input into guidance notes (the information used to assess major development proposals by Government), producing action plans and associated recommendations for Conservation status listing, and survey guidelines for threatened listed species, and making submissions to parliamentary inquiries. As a member of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, BCT regularly contributes to joint responses on bat-relevant issues to government bodies, while EUROBATS is a network of parties to an agreement directly influencing conservation policy, as it pertains to bats, in member states. Networks may also take a more direct lobbying approach. CCINSA has been working for years to move India’s fruit bats from Schedule V of the Wildlife Act of India 1972 , which defines them as vermin that can be exterminated without legal penalty. Two threatened species were afforded protection (moved to Schedule I), but the influence of the agricultural lobby has kept the remaining 12 species on Schedule V (Singaravelan et al. 2009). RELCOM has been lobbying for the creation and acquisition of legal status of Areas and Sites of Importance for the Conservation of Bats across Latin America (see Sect. 17.4.1) and promoting the implementation of bat conservation action plans.

2.1.2 Structure and Membership

Most of the networks exhibit substructure. In many cases, independent subgroups hold membership to the network. These are national Bat Conservation Programs (PCMs) in RELCOM , national conservation NGOs in BatLife Europe, range states in EUROBATS, local bat groups in BCT, and regional working groups in NABCA. Thematic structure is seen in some networks. SEABCRU is organized around four conservation priorities ; the ABS has subcommittees addressing flying fox issues, outreach and education, and a small-grants program; EUROBATS has intersessional working groups , reporting on key conservation issues (15 currently); and RELCOM is implementing key strategies organized by subregion (e.g., Central and South America). Individual membership is varied, whereas some networks formed around a core of bat researchers in academic settings (SEABCRU, RELCOM ), others have greater representation of members from NGOs (BatLife Europe), Statutory Nature Conservation Organizations/Agencies (SNCOs) and government departments (NABCA, EUROBATS), volunteer members of the public (BCT), or a combination (ABS, BCA). As networks mature, membership tends to diversify. The ABS was founded by bat researchers as a scientific society in 1992 (with an informal origin associated with a research newsletter launched in 1964), but now includes members from universities, government, other conservation societies, and private industry.

2.1.3 Challenges to Network Sustainability

By far the greatest challenge to network scope and sustainability is funding. Outside Europe, the networks do not have a paid staff or executive (with the exception of a small staff in CCINSA) and are run by volunteers. While volunteer origins and membership often confer network strength (Bodin and Crona 2009), time constraints can slow or limit responses to new challenges. Moreover, although several networks have a core of conservation researchers that remains relatively stable, as network activities can to some extent be integrated with their research agenda, there may be high turnover of volunteers involved with local activities (outreach programs, surveys etc.). Maintaining or rebuilding capacity because of volunteer turnover is a challenge, e.g., for PCMs within RELCOM .

Generally, it is a lot easier to attract funding for specific projects and programs than for staff or volunteer compensation, but these projects may be short term and tied to specific areas. Conservation solutions that require long-term monitoring with standardized methodologies (mandatory for statistical inference of success or failure of interventions) often lack “innovation appeal” to referees and funding organizations. Access to core or unrestricted funding which can be used for key strategic work, or to maintain basic network administration, is hard to secure. BCT has managed to grow its unrestricted income through donations, membership, legacies, and community fundraising, with some success, but this takes time and investment, and can be hard to maintain during periods of economic downturn. Ironically, while lack of protective legislation hampers conservation progress for some networks, protective legislation can lead to negative attitudes toward bats in other areas, particularly during recessions when protection of species can be seen as a barrier to economic growth. In addition, perceived “exaggerated” bat protection efforts can lead to reluctance among citizens to admit to the occurrence of bats in their property at all, for fear of losing partial control over their property.

In a social network, links between actors are almost entirely based on forms of communication, so mechanisms for communication (from face-to-face to online contact) are critical for the success of a network, particularly when members are geographically dispersed. All the bat conservation networks have a Web presence for interaction and/or issue newsletters, and many have regular face-to-face meetings, but gaps in communication can cause network stress, particular when node diversity is high (i.e., members come from many different backgrounds and perspectives). Effective communication is critical if network members differ in their position on a key issue. For example, tensions between the core actors in BCT and supporters and volunteers in 2006 over BCT’s stance on a government study of rabies in bats generated very strong concerns (Racey et al. 2013). This led to a review and new model of working with volunteers (partner and network agreements, regular meetings and communication) which proved very beneficial.

3 What We Can Learn from Theories of Network Structure and Function

3.1 Network Structure and Function

Network functioning describes the process by which certain network conditions lead to various network-level outcomes (Provan and Kenis 2008). Network structure influences individual and group agency , that is, the ability of a group to turn social capital derived from the network into conservation action at the network level. Network structure can be thought of as a map of the relationships (links ) between the nodes (actors) in the network. Not all actors are connected to each other. Degree centrality measures the number of links an actor has, and betweenness centrality describes the extent to which an actor links actors that are otherwise disconnected (Burt 1992). The distribution of degree and betweenness centrality across the network is used to characterize network-level characteristics such as network density (number of existing ties divided by the number of possible ties—a measure of degree) and network centrality (variability in degree among network members) (Wasserman and Faust 1994). In general, a network with high density (one with many highly connected actors) (e.g., Fig. 17.3a) facilitates rapid transfer of knowledge and development of trust, is resilient to the loss of individual actors, and promotes collective action (Bodin and Crona 2009). High link density would therefore seem to be a desirable network characteristic. However, there can be trade-offs. Very high link density can lead to network homogenization and homophily . In a homogenized network, all nodes share similar knowledge and perspectives, which limits responses to novel problems, decreasing network resilience . Homophily describes the tendency for people to interact with individuals with characteristics similar to themselves, whether by preference or restricted opportunities (McPherson and Smith-Lovin 1987) and can lead to reluctance to interact with dissimilar others, promoting a “them versus us” environment (Newman and Dale 2005, 2007). Homophily can also restrict individual freedom (Portes 1998) and discourage dissenting opinions (Newman and Dale 2007). Homophily consequently hinders innovation by cutting off actors from needed information and imposing social norms that discourage innovation and inhibit links to dissimilar others (bridging ties ).

Fig. 17.3
figure 3

Archetypal network configurations of the social network presented in Fig. 17.1. a A highly connected network, with no clear modularity (subgroups) (mean degree 4.33, network density 0.38). b A highly centralized network, in which two actors who are highly connected reducing mean degree (2.50) and network density (0.23). c Extreme modularity in which the network divided into two isolated subgroups. The subgroups are highly connected or cohesive (mean degree 3.33 and density 0.67). d. Network with high modularity with two distinguishable, cohesive subgroups, connected by bridging links (dashed lines). e Network with high modularity but connected subgroups (d) with peripheral ties to actors outside the network (open squares and triangles)

More typically, the degree of individual actors varies quite widely. Centralized networks in which a few individuals are highly connected (Fig. 17.3b) similarly have benefits and costs. Central actors can prioritize and coordinate activities resulting in effective collective action (Sandström and Carlsson 2008), but this is most effective if problems are relatively simple and short-term. Long-term planning and more complex solutions require a more decentralized structure to access different knowledge and expertise more readily (Bodin and Crona 2009). Moreover, high network centrality can leave the network vulnerable to the removal or dysfunctionality of a few central actors, and to asymmetries of influence and power (Ernstson et al. 2008).

Betweenness (linking disconnected actors), also described as bridging (bridging links and bridging actors ), is important in several regards. First, bridging links reduce the path lengths (shortest distance between actors) and network diameter (longest distance) and create “small world ” networks (Watts 2003) that can lead to the rapid dissemination and penetration of ideas across the network. Second, bridging actors can connect disparate subgroups. The extent to which a network comprises cohesive subgroups is referred to as network cohesion or modularity (Bodin and Crona 2009) (Fig. 17.3d). Subgroups may hold different sets of knowledge and skills that can be vital to the resolution of a complex problem, but this expertise must be integrated across the network through bridging links. If subgroups are poorly connected (Fig. 17.3c), they can tend internally toward homophily and homogenization (Bodin and Crona 2009).

Just as the distribution of links between actors can vary across the network, the links themselves may vary both qualitatively (type of link) and quantitatively (strength). Links can be a form of communication, a collaboration, an agreement, knowledge, or data transfer. The strength of the link can be suggested by simple frequency counts (number of new joint conservation projects started), or more holistically as suggested by Granovetter (1973): “The strength of a tie is a (probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, and intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie” (p. 1361). Actors linked by strong (or bonding) ties are more likely to influence one another, promoting mutual learning and sharing of resources but at the price of information redundancy and social “imprisonment” (Borgatti and Foster 2003). Weak or “bridging” ties promote the sharing of diverse information as they are usually between dissimilar others. On one hand, this promotes network resilience and adaptability to change, but on the other hand, these links may be broken more easily.

3.2 Structural Characteristics of Effective Conservation Networks: Within Subgroup Cohesion, Across Subgroup Collaboration, Bridging Actors, and Peripheral Actors

Given the trade-offs between network characteristics outlined above, is there such a thing as an “ideal” network structure for effective conservation? Recent reviews (Vance-Borland and Holley 2011; Mills et al. 2014) suggest that polycentric networks in which multiple, heterogeneous subgroups are linked by bridging ties maintain the greatest diversity of response options. Each subgroup has high within-group cohesion so is characterized by dense linkages (high degree centrality , strong or bonding ties) among people sharing specific knowledge that work together productively—enhancing knowledge development (Bodin et al. 2006; Bodin and Crona 2009). Within the network as a whole, there are multiple subgroups, which differ in the knowledge areas and expertise (subgroup diversity—Newman and Dale 2007), developing the diversity of knowledge held by the network as a whole (Bodin et al. 2006; Ernstson et al. 2008; Bodin and Crona 2009; Sandström and Rova 2010). Such functional diversity enhances network adaptability and resilience (Newman and Dale 2007; Mills et al. 2014), cultivates creativity (Aslan et al. 2014) and obviates internal turf battles in large networks (Reuf et al. 2003). Critical to network success are bridging relationships (actors with high betweenness centrality ) among the diverse subgroups to promote sharing of expert knowledge and counter tendencies toward subgroup homophily . Network sustainability and adaptability are further enhanced if there are connections to actors outside the network (peripheral actors ) who hold specialized knowledge, skills, or resources. Put simply, we can identify four network characteristics indicative of success—within subgroup cohesion , across subgroup collaboration, availability of bridging actors, and inclusion of peripheral actors (Fig. 17.3e).

Network structure tends to evolve through time naturally as the goals of actors change, or the success of actors leads to greater engagement and linking. Structure and transitions can and often should also be managed more actively. For example, while diverse, polycentric networks may be a valid end-goal structure, centralized networks with a few highly motivated actors already connected to many others are good for the initial phase of forming groups (Olsson et al. 2004; Crona and Bodin 2006), and several of the bat networks began with a handful of well-connected actors (ABS , BCT , SEABCRU , and RELCOM ). Once the network is more established, managed transitions can increase modularity and long-term decentralization. Moreover, during periods of stability, actors should be provided with opportunities to develop new relational ties with others, which can then be drawn upon in times of change (Olsson et al. 2006). Ideally, rather than simply increasing connectivity among all network members, inspection of network maps and data can be used to implement “network weaving ”—the strategic development of new relationships among actors for their mutual benefit and to enhance overall network agency or response to a specific challenge (e.g., a new threat to bats) (Vance-Borland and Holley 2011).

4 Toward a Global Network of Networks

4.1 Do We Need a Global Network?

A global network of networks can certainly build social capital among bat researchers and conservationists, and facilitate knowledge transfer and capacity building. Moreover, the existing networks are diverse, collectively holding knowledge and skills that range from taxonomy to advocacy. Connectivity among networks could rapidly increase functional diversity, resilience, and adaptability of both individual networks and a global network of networks. It could also provide a platform to develop bridging ties to peripheral actors with greater expertise and skills in key areas, notably lobbying and environmental education. Such a meta-network could also provide a venue for discussion of issues at the global level and for explicit requests for assistance with critical issues. This assistance could be in terms of technical or strategic advice, or collaborative projects that combine resources for the common goal. But is there a need for global agency? We suggest that there are several sets of circumstances in which a global network might facilitate conservation efforts.

First, some issues are genuinely of global concern or can benefit from prioritization efforts at the global scale. For example, habitat loss is a global issue, and the use of standardized, objective criteria to identify critical biodiversity areas worldwide can galvanize and support protection efforts, and provide a basis for monitoring. The Important Bird Areas (IBAs) Program, initiated by BirdLife International over 30 years ago, now comprises a network of over 10,000 IBAs and has had a major impact on the development of protected areas worldwide to ensure sustainable bird populations (BirdLife International 2008). RELCOM recently launched a similar program for bats in Latin America—Areas and Sites of Importance for the Conservation of Bats (Areas or Sitios para la Conservación (AICOMs/SICOMs) (Aguirre and Barquez 2013) and to date have identified 60 Areas and Sites, including 17 binational AICOMs. A coordinated initiative by a global network to develop this program worldwide could reap similar benefits for bat diversity, particularly if the network develops mechanisms to support and monitor protection of the sites after designation. Similarly, global priority-setting at the species level requires coordinated effort. While this remains the remit of the IUCN, problems arise integrating national evaluations with the global effort. Although the IUCN provides guidelines for the application of Red List criteria at regional and national levels (IUCN 2012), the guidelines and criteria are arguably difficult to apply where data are sparse, as is the case for many bat species. This has led to a proliferation of different national methods, even within regions [e.g., Aguirre et al. 2009—Bolivia, Sánchez et al. 2007—Mexico, US Endangered Species Act (ESA 1973, as amended)], which are difficult to integrate within and across regions. A global network could discuss and develop common criteria to establish the conservation status of bats at local and national scales, and provide a clearer link or integration to the global IUCN Red List assessments.

Second, several conservation issues that originated in certain areas are now “going global”—knowledge gained by regional networks could be vital for rapid responses in other parts of the world. For example, the impact of wind energy installations on bat populations has hitherto been of most concern and best studied in North America and Europe (Arnett et al. 2016). However, 103 countries used wind power on a commercial basis in 2013, with the most dynamic markets with highest growth rates in Latin America, eastern Europe, and for the first time Africa (WWEA 2014), drawing many networks into the development of guidelines to minimize bat fatalities. A global network allows for the rapid synthesis and dissemination of expertise and advocacy materials (e.g., white papers/position statements/research summaries of mitigation approaches) to support efforts in areas lacking direct experience of an issue. Similar issues are being (or could be) realized across multiple regions or globally include the role of bats as reservoir hosts in zoonotic infectious diseases (Schneeberger and Voigt 2016), white-nose syndrome (Frick et al. 2016), and hunting of bats (Mildenstein et al. 2016).

Third, a global network secures the diversity of expertise to respond to future threats. It is noteworthy that some of the biggest threats facing bats today were unimagined less than 20 years ago, with no mention in edited volumes (e.g., Kunz and Racey 1998) or action plans (Mickleburgh et al. 1992; Hutson et al. 2001) of mortality at wind installations, white-nose syndrome, or the role of bats in emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) and the attendant consequences for public and government perceptions of bats. We do not know what new threats to bats might emerge in the coming decades, nor whence they might originate. A global network would facilitate coordinated responses and support for regional issues.

Finally, a global network would provide a means for current and emergent critical issues to become widely known and, critically, could act as a single voice to promote bat conservation through global positions on recurrent, widespread issues such as wind installations, habitat loss and the protection of critical sites, EIDs. A unified voice and global position could also be key in local or national issues where governments, resilient to the dogged efforts of the local group, might be swayed by unified international scrutiny or outrage. Many of the regional networks have faced such challenges. For example, in Australia, the ABS is in urgent need of support to keep up with the number and scale of political issues and administrative actions surrounding flying foxes, and it is conceivable that unified global advocacy might have prompted earlier, precautionary, action as the Christmas Island Pipistrelle ( Pipistrellus murrayi ) declined to (presumed) extinction. Some suggestion that international opinion can influence local decisions comes from Mauritius. In 2006, the prime minister of Mauritius was heavily lobbied by British conservationists to void a cull of Pteropus niger , planned to placate fruit farmers . The lobbyists’ influence is uncertain as the cull went ahead, but its success was limited by existing, observed, legislation precluding the discharge of firearms after dark.

We believe a global network can play a key role in bat conservation in the coming decades. However, it must retain the personality of each regional network and promote local bat conservation. Based on the effectiveness of polycentric diverse networks outlined above (Sect. 17.3.2), we envisage a global network as a meta-network of regional networks (Table 17.1) linked by bridging ties among members to generate an emergent, but decentralized global network of networks. To reach this end requires that existing regional networks be supported and strengthened, the establishment of new networks in areas of the world currently not covered, and the development of bridging links across regional networks to provide global coverage.

4.2 Strengthening Existing Networks

From our review of characteristics of successful conservation networks (Sect. 17.3.2), existing networks might consider activities that increase the number and strength of links among its actors. This increases mean degree, with redundancy improving resilience to member loss (Folke et al. 2005), and greater connectivity facilitating knowledge transfer. Face-to-face events (conferences, workshops, etc.) as well as online social networks (e.g., Facebook) provide for bidirectional communication among actors and an increase in connectivity through establishment and strengthening of social bonds. Although online social ties are often weak (Burke et al. 2010), they may nevertheless cultivate and crystallize otherwise ephemeral relationships established face-to-face (Ellison et al. 2007; Lewis and West 2009).

While organizations may not be in the position to conduct a full social network analysis to guide explicit network weaving (as advocated by Prell et al. 2008, 2009), development can still be strategic. Identifying and connecting or developing “missing nodes” is an important aspect of network strengthening—are there individuals, themes, perspectives, knowledge, and countries missing from the network? Do actors exist but are not connected, or does the network need to encourage the development of new capacity?

Establishing connections to existing actors not currently in a network increases network diversity and hence adaptability, which in turn is central to maintaining social capital (Newman and Dale 2007). In Southeast Asia, Myanmar has had an active bat research community for at least a decade, but for political reasons it has been difficult to connect it to the rest of the SEABCRU , a situation that the SEABCRU has actively sought to rectify with a workshop in 2014, now that political landscape has changed. From a knowledge perspective, early in SEABCRU development it became clear that the network lacked expertise in disease ecology, despite the fact that Southeast Asia is an emerging disease hotspot (Jones et al. 2008), and actively recruited an actor from Ecohealth Alliance to fill that expertise gap. As a network grows, actors with specific management skills needed to run the network may need to be recruited. BCT actively headhunted to achieve a skill mix for the board of trustees that included strategy, organizational development, funding, marketing, legal, financial, HR, bat research, and conservation as well as volunteers perspectives.

In many cases, actors or nodes may not currently exist. Lack of expertise and capacity was one of the driving motivations behind the establishment of CCINSA , a network that has focused much of its efforts on training workshops. The role that this can play in establishing new nodes is illustrated by the growth of activities in Nepal, following a CCINSA workshop in 2007. Participants went on to establish two organizations involved in bat conservation—Small Mammal Conservation and Research Foundation (2009) and Natural Resources Research and Conservation Centre (2010). RELCOM began with representatives from five countries (Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico) and grew network membership by actively recruiting key bat conservationists and researchers from across Latin America. In countries lacking expertise (e.g., in Central America), senior leaders from RELCOM actively built capacity through courses and workshops and identified local members needed to fill the gaps in region-wide representation. This approach grew RELCOM from five to 22 countries in just five years, and most of the remaining gaps are being filled by organizations actively petitioning to join.

The SEABCRU five-year plan allocated year three for the identification and filling of gaps in the SEABCRU network. In accord with the SEABCRU’s thematic approach, gaps were defined as areas lacking expertise in, but facing, one or more of the four major threats. Activities center on fostering capacity to fill these gaps. These include a flying fox workshop in Cambodia (2013) to train biodiversity researchers in monitoring protocols, dietary studies, bat–farmer conflict resolution, and disease ecology, and a similar workshop focused on cave bat conservation in southern Vietnam (2014).

Filling in network gaps that lack existing actors can be challenging, and several networks have encountered difficulties, despite having identified clear targets. Efforts have generally been hampered by lack of funds to support foundational events (e.g., workshops), lack of suitable liaisons in the target area that can anchor events, and political constraints. Political constraints may be current (countries restricting international relations because of war or ideology), or historical. As an example of the latter, the majority of countries in Central and South America are now members of RELCOM, but the Guianas of northeastern South America have greater, recent European affiliations (comprising French Guiana, an overseas department of France), Guyana (British Guiana until independence in 1966), and Surinam (part of Dutch Guiana until 1975). These countries support high bat diversity, face similar conservation challenges to the rest of the continent, and lack local research capacity, but colonial and immigration history have limited their integration with Latin America, and hence with RELCOM.

Established networks should also work to develop links to other conservation stakeholders (Mills et al. 2014—scale-crossing to peripheral actors ; Fig. 17.3e). Obvious “peripheral actors” include those engaged in similar issues (e.g., raptor fatalities at wind installations) or habitats (e.g., RAMSAR wetland groups). Perhaps, the most intuitive and common peripheral actors for bat conservation networks are cave groups. Cave groups have contributed to bat surveys from the Philippines to the USA. The Australian Speleological Federation played a major role in gathering bat knowledge in Australia in the late 1950s, and the legacy of this interaction is embodied in the ABS constitution, which seeks “to establish and maintain links, and work cooperatively, with other organizations within and outside Australia which share similar aims and objectives to the Society.” More recently, the ABS became part of the Places You Love alliance of more than 40 green groups in response to pressure to weaken Australian environmental laws and has increased interaction with other smaller bat conservation and wildlife rehabilitation groups in Australia. Similarly, BatLife Europe works with “collaborating organizations,” such as local NGOs, museums, and companies, to exchange information and participate in activities.

Networks should be cognizant that, as discussed above, the most effective network structure may change through time. As the network becomes more established and grows, knowledge and responsiveness can be enhanced by transitioning from a centralized structure (Fig. 17.3b) to one with greater modularity (Fig. 17.3d). RELCOM is actively transitioning to a more modular structure through the establishment of subregional groups (Central and South America), while maintaining the strong bonds already established. This structure allows the network to respond more effectively to the issues in each subregion. For example, Central America is in need of greater capacity building, as local PCMs are comprised of very young researchers, whereas expertise is more established in South America. The network is further subdividing South America into the Andes, Amazon, Southern Cone, and Caribbean to reflect the dominant conservation issues: wind turbines and habitat fragmentation in the Andes; habitat destruction in Amazonia; wind turbines in the Southern Cone; and bat migration and roost loss associated with hurricanes in the Caribbean.

As described above (Sect. 17.2.1), most of the bat conservation networks are already modular, comprising subgroups defined geographically or thematically. Geographical subgroups are likely to be more cohesive initially (as actors within them know each other), but may tend toward homophily over time. In some cases, there may not be sufficient actors to make up a geographic subunit, as was the case with the SEABCRU at its foundation. Thematic groups promote functional diversity of the network as a whole, but it may take time for trust and strong bonds to develop within them. Ultimately, a mix of both is desirable, with members from geographical groups sitting on different thematic teams. This “jigsaw” strategy (Aronson and Patnoe 2011) promotes cooperative learning as expert knowledge developed in thematic groups is returned to the geographical groups. Currently, EUROBATS includes elements of this strategy with intersessional working group members drawn from member states. This strategy also ensures a variety of weak (bridging) and strong (bonding) ties among more actors, and explicit network weaving (Prell et al. 2008, 2009).

Network centrality is further decreased if the leadership structure transitions to a rotational one with elected officers serving for specified terms, as several of the networks do (e.g., RELCOM , ABS , BCA ). Rotational leadership also avoids cliques and encourages different viewpoints. Conversely, failure to decentralize leaves the network vulnerable to loss of central actors, homophily, and poor long-term recruitment. Networks should also maintain ongoing recruitment programs to replace people, who leave, and maintain network heterogeneity (Newman and Dale 2007).

4.3 Filling Regional Gaps—Establishing New Networks

Major regional gaps include East Asia (covering China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia), Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan), the Middle East (18 countries), and the Russian Federation (Fig. 17.2).

The first question, rather similar to that when filling in gaps in existing networks, is to determine whether expertise (possible actors/nodes) already exists and just needs connecting in these regions, or if the area is completely lacking expertise. In East Asia, there are several active national groups, namely the Asian Bat Research Institute, Bat Study and Conservation Group of Japan, and the Bat Association of Taiwan, as well as individual actors in Mongolia and China, which could be the kernels of a regional network. Similarly, the EUROBAT range state members Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia could serve as nodes in establishing a Middle East network.

A limited number of actors (be they individuals or national groups) should not hinder the development of a network, provided of course the actors can commit to the venture. Rather, based on the general principle that founding networks are most likely to succeed if they are fairly centralized (Olsson et al. 2004; Crona and Bodin 2006), the best approach at foundation is to identify a few actors in the region that are well connected with others (high betweenness), which could be brought together to establish or strengthen links needed to form a network. If a handful of central actors are already connected this is ideal, otherwise it is essential to spend time building trust and fostering interpersonal relationships (and skills) before getting into issues (Newman and Dale 2007; Cheruvelil et al. 2014). Many of the existing networks (e.g., BCT , RELCOM , SEABCRU ) started with a small group of people that were already connected with strong bonds (positive interactions going back many years). In several cases, the group already had the characteristics of a network (social capital, coordination) with agency directed at a specific task. In the UK, BCT evolved from the Mammal Society Bat Group. In Australia, the ABS was preceded by the Australian Bat Banding Scheme (1960), and a collective effort to produce the first bat identification guide. Core members of what was to become the SEABCRU first came together to organize the 1st SE Asian International Bat Conference (2007). Similarly, RELCOM was created by five existing Bat Conservation Programs during the 15th International Bat Research Conference in Mérida, México (2007). Because these actors also had high betweenness (lots of links to others), they were then able to pull in diverse people to build the network. Conversely, networks may struggle to persist beyond foundation if the founding actors do not have or develop strong ties to one another and/or have low betweenness (few links to others).

The diversity of actors involved during network formation should also be considered. High diversity of members can avoid structural homophily (Prell et al. 2008; Cheruvelil et al. 2014), but there must be sufficient commonality of perspectives and expectations among members to provide cohesive network objectives and to develop and strengthen links. Diversity of actors in terms of age, career stage, and nationality has generally proven productive, and although new networks might begin with a fairly centralized structure, thought can still be given to internal structure and subgroups with inclusion of actors with diverse expertise (e.g., SEABCRU steering committee included specialists in each of the four priority research areas) or from different nationalities (e.g., RELCOM ). However, communication (and hence link strength) can falter during network formation when actors come from different institutional backgrounds and hence mandates (e.g., academic, non-governmental, governmental, consultancy). In essence, social capital builds more readily when actors are diverse, but not so diverse that agendas and modes of communication differ. As the network matures, it becomes easier to integrate and capitalize on different perspectives. Whereas several of the younger networks largely comprise members with similar backgrounds (e.g., SEABCRU, RELCOM—academic, NABCA working groups drawn from government agencies, NGOs), older networks, such as the ABS , have broader membership that include representation in universities, government, other conservation societies, and private industry.

Early development of a network’s mission and objectives can help establish network identity and guide membership decisions and help actors clarify what it means to be part of the network versus an independent researcher, conservationist, or NGO. Moreover, actors that are expected to play a role in the network need to be included or consulted during the establishment process. Given that most actors in bat conservation networks are volunteers, networks will be more sustainable if actors are not only committed to the overall goals of the network but also see increases in personal social capital that lead to tangible benefits. Identifying objectives that contribute to the core network mission requires collective input, but benefit actors directly can be invaluable. Benefits may accrue to the subgroup (e.g., NGO, PCM), but also to the individual in the form of publications, research proposals, or databases that facilitate their own research or applied conservation objective. For example, the SEABCRU explicitly identified publications that met the network’s objectives by synthesizing regional conservation knowledge (Abdul-Aziz et al. 2016; Mildenstein et al. 2016) or resolving multi-national taxonomic concerns (e.g., Ith et al. 2011), and is currently developing a regional echolocation call library for acoustic surveying and monitoring of bat diversity in anthropogenic landscapes. Social capital built through the network can also be mobilized to apply for conservation research funding for collaborative teams from within the network. RELCOM partnered with BCI to offer seed grants for its members, and several PCMs have joined together to conduct research, such as a project on the study of migratory patterns of Leptonycteris curasoae (IUCN Red List as Vulnerable), which involves participants from Venezuela, Colombia, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. EUROBATS launched the European Projects Initiatives with maximum grants of 10,000 euros to address urgent site- or species-based conservation issues or to fund training workshops in range states. Priority is given to transboundary projects and those promoting international cooperation between the parties and range states to the Agreement.

Fostering the development of expertise in regions with none, essentially developing sufficient nodes to actually support a network, is a significant challenge. Nonetheless, basic network principles apply, and supporting a few actors who can develop (or have) strong bonds between them and are linked to many others will likely maximize success. Broad initiatives to identify enthusiastic, key actors might target vertebrate biodiversity specialists, as it is relatively easy to transfer bat research techniques and knowledge to bird and small mammal researchers. Interest in bat diversity and conservation in Bangladesh (Group for Conservation and Research on Bats) grew out of projects on bats and EID at veterinary institutes (Nurul Islam pers. comm.), providing another avenue for identifying key actors. Involving interested actors in the activities of existing networks and the global network can expose them to the value of network approaches and suggest organizational modes.

4.4 Networking Networks for Global Coverage

Our vision is of a global network resulting from bridging ties across regional networks. As such, it would be a largely decentralized entity, but overseen by a coordinating committee drawn from the member networks. To foster bridging ties and accelerate exchange of best practice, thematic subgroups could be identified (e.g., research, outreach, policy) and populated with members from each network. Working groups, similar to those of EUROBATS, to address specific issues of global or multi-regional concern would further weave the network together. Such a jigsaw approach would additionally disseminate expertise back to the regional networks.

Other approaches to develop and sustain bridging ties are offered by the network literature. “Board interlocks ” (Borgatti and Foster 2003) develop ties among organizations through a member of one organization sitting on the governing body of another. With so many regional networks, this might be a little unwieldy, but initial efforts might focus on the thematic subgroups, with members attending events run by other networks. In some cases, members from one network may lead a training event of another. For example, SEABCRU steering committee member Neil Furey was the key resource person for a 2014 CCINSA workshop in Bangladesh.

Joint ventures (e.g., collaborative conservation projects and joint symposia) and inter-organizational alliances provide access to information and knowledge resources that are difficult to obtain by other means and which improve performance and innovation (Borgatti and Foster 2003). Several regional networks encounter the same conservation issue (e.g., EIDs and increased pressure on declining pteropodids from a variety of factors unite BCA , SEABCRU , CCINSA , ABS ; hunting of bats for bushmeat and medicine are concerns for BCA, SEABCRU, ABS) and might benefit from joint-venture approaches or alliances to seek funding for research and conservation action. Global initiatives, such as priority-setting of important areas or sites, would likewise foster bridging ties.

The challenges in establishing and maintaining a global network of networks are essentially those of the regional networks, writ large—limitations on time, resources, communication, and trust. To overcome these constraints, the global network must have a clear identity, mission, and objectives agreed upon by all member networks. Given resource limitations, and the many threats to bats that participant networks deal with within their own regions, member networks must see how involvement benefits not only the global mission but their own. Communication is pivotal to all networks, and at the global scale, there are obvious barriers associated with cultural and linguistic differences, sometimes augmented by insular attitudes. Just as important for communication and expectations is the diversity of the networks themselves; establishing bridging links between networks comprising mostly of researchers and conservation practitioners (RELCOM, SEABCRU), and those made up of NGOs (BatLife Europe), for example, require thought and active fostering of trust among actors. Moreover, clear lines of communication must be established between executives/committees representing societies, and among members at the individual level.

5 Recommendations

With the globalization of threats to bats, we recommend the following:

  1. 1.

    The development of a global network of bat researchers and conservationists to respond to such threats and to provide a unified voice for advocacy.

  2. 2.

    That the global network be formed as a federation of regional networks, retaining regional autonomy and identity.

  3. 3.

    The establishment of new networks in regional gaps, specifically East Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Russian Federation.

  4. 4.

    That existing and planned networks consider social network theory and developing and refining their structure. We recommend that:

    1. (a)

      at foundation, networks adopt a centralized structure based around a few well-connected actors;

    2. (b)

      as the network matures:

      1. (i)

        actively transition to a structure comprising multiple, heterogeneous subgroups differing in knowledge areas and expertise;

      2. (ii)

        fill gaps in knowledge, expertise, or geography by developing links with new actors;

      3. (iii)

        increase overall membership diversity; and

      4. (iv)

        develop ties to peripheral actors with overlapping conservation interests.