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

Observational Studies on Bats at Street Lights

Bats have been observed foraging around lights ever since artificial lighting became pervasive (Shields and Bildstein 1979; Belwood and Fullard 1984; Barak and Yom-Tov 1989; Acharya and Fenton 1999). Artificial light attracts many positively phototactic insects (Rydell 1992; Eisenbeis 2006), and most insectivorous bats are probably opportunistic feeders. Thus, they quickly identify and exploit insect accumulations such as swarming termites (Gould 1978) and insect clusters at artificial lights (Fenton and Morris 1976; Bell 1980; de Jong and Ahlén 1991). So some insectivorous bats probably profit from street lights because resource predictability and high insect densities increase foraging efficiency (Rydell 1992, 2006). For instance, 18 of 25 Neotropical insectivorous bat species which could be detected by acoustic monitoring were observed foraging around street lights in a small settlement. While more species were recorded in mature forest, total bat activity was lowest in forest but highest around street lights (Jung and Kalko 2010).

Bats prey on relatively large insects at street lights, mostly moths (Fenton and Morris 1976; Belwood and Fullard 1984; Acharya and Fenton 1992; Acharya 1995; Hickey et al. 1996; Acharya and Fenton 1999; Jacobs 1999; Pavey 1999; Fullard 2001). While moths are the most numerous insects around artificial lights (Huemer et al. 2010; Eisenbeis and Eick 2011), their contribution to a bat's diet can be much higher than expected from their relative abundance at street lights (Belwood and Fullard 1984). This implies that bats focus on larger moths rather than smaller prey at street lights. Although moths were only captured in 36 % of attacks, northern bats Eptesicus nilssonii probably gain more than twice as much energy when feeding on moths at street lights than smaller dipterans in woodlands (Rydell 1992).

Aggregations of large insects around lamps enable bats to reduce foraging time and hence energy costs while maximising energy returns (Acharya and Fenton 1999; Jung and Kalko 2010). Big brown bats Eptesicus fuscus, for instance, spend less than half as much time outside the roost where in habitats where they forage at street lights than where they do not use lamps for hunting (Geggie and Fenton 1985). Hence, foraging at lights might be beneficial when a high foraging efficiency compensates for the potentially higher predation risk.

Bat activity and foraging efficiency at street lights are mainly determined by the number and size of prey insects available, both of which are strongly affected by the spectral characteristics of the light (Blake et al. 1994). Thus, the type of light indirectly influences bat activity. The light's attractiveness for insects increases with its UV spectral content. Aerial-hunting long-legged myotis Myotis volans and California myotis M. californicus consistently preyed on insects clustered in the cone of experimental black (UV) lights in North America (Bell 1980). While black light is not used for street lighting, similar results are seen with street lights that produce UV emissions. Thus, bat density can be an order of magnitude higher in towns illuminated by HPMV compared with those illuminated by HPS lights and road sections illuminated by HPMV rather than deep-orange LPS lights (Rydell 1992). In Britain, mean bat activity, likely to be mainly common pipistrelles Pipistrellus pipistrellus, is usually equal to or lower along roads lit by LPS lights than in dark sections, whereas bat activity is higher under HPMV than LPS lights or sections with no light (Fig. 7.3; Blake et al. 1994).

Fig. 7.3 Bat activity varies according to the type of artificial lighting. Activity of pipistrelle Pipistrellus spp. bats (mean and SD) along a 28 km stretch of road near Aberdeen, Scotland. a rural sections of the road without streetlamps, b village sections with sodium (orange) lamps and c a village with high-pressure mercury vapour lamps. From Rydell and Racey (1995)

 
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