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


There is no internationally agreed definition of forest plantation and many very old forests we may think of as natural have been planted. However, for the purposes of this review, the term plantation is used to mean forests planted primarily for timber extraction using intensive management techniques. Timber plantations are perhaps the most extreme form of silviculture as they require replanting of typically exotic trees, with site and soil preparation required over large scales. Seedlings are planted at high densities to maximise growth and form of trees, and this has the consequence of producing high levels of clutter as the trees grow. All the silvicultural practices outlined in this section are also applicable to plantation forests. The response of bats has been documented in eucalypt plantations in Australia and pine plantations in New Zealand. As expected, bat activity in young plantations of eucalypts (<10 years) is typically low and considerably less than that found in nearby forest, and, somewhat surprisingly, activity is similar to levels over adjacent cleared farms (Law and Chidel 2006; Law et al. 2011). Bat activity is higher in older eucalypt plantations (~25 years), especially where drought and lack of maintenance leads to tree mortality and the creation of gaps (Law and Chidel 2006). Closed-space species (Nyctophilus) show some association with plantations as do open-space species (Mormopterus ridei), which presumably use the space above plantations together with adjacent open paddocks. Radio-tracked bats avoid roosting in young eucalypt plantations where tree hollows are absent, even though decorticating bark is present (Law et al. 2011).

Despite limitations in habitat quality, plantation forests provide large areas of additional habitat for threatened long-tailed bats, Chalinolobus tuberculatus, in New Zealand (Borkin and Parsons 2011a). Borkin and Parsons (2011b) found these bats roosting in crevices, fissures, and small hollows in the oldest stands of Monterey pine, Pinus radiata, plantations (25–30 years), with females choosing to roost within 150 m of waterways. In these plantations, bats selected home ranges with higher proportions of relatively old stands than available (Borkin and Parsons 2011a). Males selected edges with open unplanted areas within their home ranges, which females avoided, instead selecting older stands for foraging. Borkin et al. (2011) also documented the response to the clear-fell harvest of a pine plantation and found a pattern of declining numbers of roosts used, as well as smaller roosting areas and colony sizes. Over 3 years, 21 % of known roosts were lost with 15 % due to forestry operations and 6 % due to natural tree fall. To mitigate harvest operations, it was suggested that some suitable foraging and roosting areas should be retained within bat home ranges. Borkin et al. (2011) further suggested that priority management for this declining New Zealand bat should focus on plantation areas closest to water and harvests should be planned when bats are not heavily pregnant nor have non-volant dependents.

Pine plantations in the south-eastern USA are actively managed landscapes with extensive amounts of fragmentation and edge development. Nevertheless, these landscapes often support a diverse bat assemblage, in part due to enhanced foraging conditions along edge interfaces and to suitable foraging and roosting habitats along forested-riparian corridors (Miller 2003; Elmore et al. 2004; Hein et al. 2008b, 2009a). Experimental studies have demonstrated that activity of bats is affected by edge habitats, with highest levels of activity occurring along the edge interface regardless of echolocation call structure or wing morphology (Jantzen and Fenton 2013). Tree canopies also serve as edge interfaces in forested environments, with more manoeuvrable, high-frequency bats foraging along canopies and edges more often than less manoeuvrable, low-frequency bats (Pettit and Wilkins 2012). Relationships of age, formation, and structural characteristics of edge habitats with activity of foraging bats are complex, with newly formed, high-contrast edges supporting higher bat activity and stronger depth of edge influence, than older more developed, cantilevered edges which possess less contrast between adjacent habitats (Jantzen and Fenton 2013). Regardless, data indicate that managed forests with an abundance of edge habitat, typical of plantation forests in south-eastern North America, can support a diverse assemblage of forest bat species.

Spruce, pine, and fir species account for the largest share of the forest plantation area in Europe, with Eucalyptus species introduced from Australia common in the south. While eucalypt plantations appear to be avoided by some bats (Di Salvo et al. 2009), positive selection was found for the Mediterranean horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus euryale, in the Basque country (Aihartza et al. 2003). In Spain,

R. euryale and Mehely's horseshoe bat, R. mehelyi, both closed-space foragers, were radio-tracked foraging in eucalypt plantations and dehesa (managed oak savanna) in proportion to, or greater than, their availability (Russo et al. 2005a, b). Numerous acoustic and radio-tracking studies have documented avoidance of bats from non-native coniferous plantations in Europe (e.g. Entwhistle et al. 1996; Walsh and Harris 1996). Perhaps as a consequence of this, the effects of plantation forestry practices on bat populations in Europe have been largely ignored, and surprisingly little is known about the use of timber plantations by bats. However, several long-running artificial 'bat box' schemes operated by the UK's Forestry Commission have indicated that some plantations contain large roosting bat populations (Park et al. 1998). Radio-tracking of Natterer's bat, Myotis nattereri, a species previously associated primarily with deciduous forests has uncovered the extensive use of areas used for commercial forestry, both for roosting and foraging (Mortimer 2006). This study conducted in a plantation in Scotland found that

M. nattereri preferentially foraged within areas of Corsican pine, Pinus nigra var. maritima, and roosted in cavities formed from live double-leadered Corsican pine (Mortimer 2006). Given life-history parameters of the bats studied (survival, population densities) were similar or higher than those described within deciduous forests, and that double-leadered trees are usually targeted for removal by foresters as uneconomic, such findings illustrate the importance of studies in plantation forests.

A high percentage of open ground in some planted forests can benefit species that specialise on the predation of ground dwelling prey. Greater mouse-eared bat, Myotis myotis, for example, while often associated with deciduous forests, was found preferentially foraging in mature spruce monocultures with a high percentage of open ground in Germany, and intensively managed orchards and lowland forests with no undergrowth in Switzerland (Arlettaz 1999; Zahn et al. 2004). These studies collectively suggest that it is the forest structure that may be more important than tree species composition in many cases. Therefore, it seems clear that timber plantations have the potential to be of value to bats, but we lack an understanding of how populations of different species are affected by current silviculture practices.

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