The Okavango River Basin is a hotspot of bat diversity that requires urgent and adequate protection. To advise future conservation strategies, we investigated the relative importance of a range of potential environmental drivers of bat species richness and functional community composition in the Okavango River Basin. During annual canoe transects along the major rivers, originating in the central Angolan highlands, we recorded more than 25,000 bat echolocation calls from 2015 to 2018. We corrected for possible biases in sampling design and effort. Firstly, we conducted rarefaction analyses of each survey year and sampling appeared to be complete, apart from 2016. Secondly, we used total activity as a measure of sample effort in mixed models of species richness. Species richness was highest in the Angola Miombo Woodlands and at lower elevations, with higher minimum temperatures. In total, we identified 31 individual bat species. We show that even when acoustic surveys are conducted in remote areas and over multiple years, it is possible to correct for biases and obtain representative richness estimates. Changes in habitat heterogeneity will have detrimental effects on the high richness reported here and human land-use change, specifically agriculture, must be mediated in a system such as the Angolan Miombo Woodland.
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