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Home arrow Environment arrow Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World


Forests are one of the most important habitats for bats as they offer the potential for both roosting and foraging, and most species are reliant on forests for at least some part of their life cycle. Humans are also heavily reliant on the resources produced by forests, in particular timber. Consequently, forests are highly managed and modified in many areas. Understanding the effect that human manipulation of forested landscapes has on the resources required by bats is therefore of great importance to their conservation.

The use of silvicultural techniques to manipulate tree stands for timber production or biodiversity conservation goals presents several challenges. Forest bats are mobile and, as with forest birds, can use a large three-dimensional space to meet their life requisites (Kroll et al. 2012). Therefore, stand-level considerations alone are insufficient in sustaining habitat conditions for many forest bats as landscapelevel needs are of equal or greater concern (Duchamp et al. 2007). Secondly, forest bats require roosting sites, high-quality foraging habitats, drinking sites, and features that provide connectivity among landscape elements. Providing all of these habitat requirements for an entire assemblage of bats simultaneously on a managed forested landscape is a difficult challenge, necessitating hierarchical approaches that assess spatial juxtaposition of habitat elements on the landscape and that implement silvicultural systems using multiple treatments applied both within and among stands.

Silvicultural practices vary greatly around the world. For example, in the northern hemisphere, clear felling typically results in cleared areas of 40–180 ha surrounded by relatively even-aged forests (Thomas 1988; Grindal and Brigham 1999; Swystun et al. 2001). In parts of Europe and North America, however, patch sizes are considerably smaller and some countries have abandoned clear felling altogether, favouring a more selective logging approach. Similarly, in parts of Australia, where broad scale clear-fall techniques are not utilised, selective logging results in a multi-aged forest (Nicholson 1999).

A key feature of insectivorous bats is their sophisticated sensory system, which enables them to navigate and forage in the dark. The foraging efficiency of echolocating bats is constrained by variations in vegetation because the echoes returning from prey need to be distinguished from background echoes returning from vegetation. These 'clutter' echoes can mask the echoes of prey making foraging inefficient in situations where vegetation is dense (Schnitzler et al. 2003). Forest bat species differ in echolocation signal design and wing morphology and this influences their flight behaviour and their tolerance to clutter, allowing classification into three broad foraging ensembles: (1) closed-space species are slow flying and highly manoeuvrable bats that can forage close to vegetation; (2) edge-space species exploit edge habitat and other linear features; and

(3) open-space foragers have lower manoeuvrability and fly faster above the forest canopy or within large gaps in the forest. Changes to forest structure that influence the degree of clutter can, therefore, alter the availability of foraging habitat for each ensemble.

Our aim in this chapter was to explore how insectivorous bats respond to different silvicultural approaches used in forests around the world, incorporating studies within natural, or semi-natural, forests to intensive management within plantation forestry. We focus on three broad areas: North America, Australasia (including New Zealand), and Europe and refer the reader to Meyer et al. (2016) (Chap. 3) for tropical forests. While the majority of studies included in this review are published in scientific journals, we also include information from the grey literature

(e.g. reports, conference proceedings, and unpublished theses) and some unpublished data where appropriate.

We look to highlight both commonalities and differences in the various approaches to the issue in different regions. We suggest that ecomorphology is one of the keys to understanding how bats use their environment and we use ecomorphological traits as a framework for predicting how the three broad functional ensembles of bats respond to forest logging (Hanspach et al. 2012; Luck et al. 2013). Conceptual models have been proposed previously for the relationship between the abundance of bats and key ecological resources manipulated by forest management (Fig. 5.1; Hayes and Loeb 2007). These posit the influence of thresholds for certain variables such as water availability, where further increases do not result in increased bat abundance. We assess the extent to which these models fit current data and extend them to (1) consider the time since logging as a response variable and (2) include an ecomorphological framework for the response of bats. We emphasise the importance of a long-term perspective when assessing bat responses in forests given that forests are longlived ecosystems that undergo dynamic changes after disturbance. Finally, we consider the merits of multi-spatial scale management for bats and recommend future areas of research to advance the effective management of this diverse and functionally important group. There is some specialised terminology within this chapter that may be unfamiliar to those new to silvicultural literature, so we have provided a glossary at the end of the chapter with definitions. While the term woodland is often used to describe vegetation communities comprising trees but with a more open and lower canopy cover than forests, this definition varies by country. Here, we use the term forest to encompass the various definitions of woodland.

Fig. 5.1 Conceptual models illustrating hypothesised relationships among the abundance of bats and ecological resources within forests (Hayes and Loeb 2007)

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