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

Bodies of Water as a Foraging Habitat

The tendency for higher insect abundance near water sources attracts bats to use water sources as foraging habitats. Furthermore, calm surface water provides a less cluttered acoustic signal return from the echolocation pulses (Mackey and Barclay 1989; Siemers et al. 2001), and there is some evidence, at least for echolocating bats, that activity over calm pools of water is higher than that over fastflowing riffles (von Frenckell and Barclay 1987). Bat activity in a transect from dry woodland savannah to riverine habitat in southern Africa was correlated with insect abundance—both bat activity and insect abundance were higher in riverine habitat (Rautenbach et al. 1996) suggesting that bats were attracted to this habitat because of the feeding opportunities it provided.

Drought is known to reduce the abundance of insects in temperate zones (Frampton et al. 2000) and thus affect reproduction in insectivorous bats (Rhodes 2007). An eight year study by Bogan and Lytle (2011) on aquatic insects living in two study pools of a formerly perennial desert stream in the Whetstone Mountains of Arizona, USA, showed that complete water loss followed by intermittent flow caused a catastrophic regime shift in community structure that did not recover to the pre-drying configuration even after four years. Ledger et al. (2011) found significant reduction in and suppression of secondary productivity by drought that could have severe constraining effects on terrestrial vertebrate predator populations, and Love et al. (2008) found similar effects in Arkansas, USA. Furthermore, desert bats in Arizona responded to artificial-light-induced food patches (Fenton and Morris 1975) and one would presume this would be similar when small pools of water create swarms of high insect density. All of these data together suggest that small water sources with intermittent flow are vitally important as foraging sites to at least some insectivorous desert bat species.

In Europe, three species of bats are aquatic habitat specialists: Daubenton's bat,

M. daubentonii, the long-fingered bat, Myotis capaccinii, and the pond bat, Myotis dasycneme. Besides taking insects in flight by aerial hawking, they typically forage very close to the water surface, from which prey is gaffed with their large feet or the inter-femoral membrane and transferred to the mouth while on the wing (Kalko and Schnitzler 1989; Siemers et al. 2001). Chironomidae and Trichoptera are frequent prey items of these bats (e.g. Biscardi et al. 2007; Krüger et al. 2012).

M. capaccinii may seize adult chironomids from the water surface as they emerge from pupal casings. Trawling bats mainly forage over calm water whose surface is free from ripples (Rydell et al. 1999) as echoes from clutter interfere with prey detection (Siemers and Schnitzler 2004). On windy nights, M. capaccinii and M. daubentonii are less active (Russo and Jones 2003), presumably because wind reduces prey density and generates ripples on the water surface affecting target detection. In such circumstances, bats forage at sheltered sites where water is calmer (Lewis and Stephenson 1966; Lewis 1969).

Several other species of bats frequent riparian habitats to forage and/or drink, especially the soprano pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pygmaeus (e.g. Nicholls and Racey 2006), Nathusius' pipistrelle, Pipistrellus nathusii (Flaquer et al. 2009), and other Pipistrellus spp. (Scott et al. 2010), Schreiber's bat Miniopterus schreibersii (Serra-Cobo et al. 2000) and noctules, Nyctalus spp. (Rachwald 1992; Racey 1998; Vaughan et al. 1997). The stricter reliance on riparian habitats is one of the main ecological factors distinguishing P. pygmaeus from its sibling P. pipistrellus (but see Warren et al. 2000) and allowing interspecific niche partitioning and thus coexistence (Oakeley and Jones 1998; Nicholls and Racey 2006; DavidsonWatts et al. 2006; Sattler et al. 2007). However, local factors such as elevation or landscape composition may influence differences across species. At larger scales, the presence of main rivers and wetland areas are important as migratory paths and offer important stopover sites to migrating bats across Europe (Flaquer et al. 2009). Rivers and riparian vegetation also constitute important linear landscape elements used for navigation by several European bats (Serra-Cobo et al. 2000; Russo et al. 2002).

As might be expected given the above, the quality of foraging areas lacking water is influenced by their distance to water. In Portugal, proximity to a drinking water source increased foraging habitat quality for Mehely's horseshoe bat Rhinolophus mehelyi and M. schreibersii (Rainho and Palmeirim 2011). Similarly, a radio-tracking study of R. mehelyi in Spain showed that although this species hunted predominately in forest, the foraging areas were always within 500 m of a water source (Salsamendi et al. 2012), possibly to allow for easy rehydration between foraging bouts or perhaps to take advantage of water-emergent forest insects. In historic landscape parks of England (Glendell and Vaughan 2002) as well as in German forests (Kusch and Idelberger 2005) the relative area of available water surface is an effective proxy for levels of bat activity.

Australian bats have also been documented preferentially foraging around water sources. When compared to other habitat types in the Simpson Desert, more feedings buzzes were recorded around permanent and temporary water sources (Williams and Dickman 2004). Bats will also forage over hypersaline water bodies but more feeding buzzes are recorded over freshwater sites (Griffiths et al. 2014b). There is also evidence (e.g. Aldridge and Rautenbach 1987; Schoeman and Jacobs 2003, 2011; Naidoo et al. 2011, 2013) that insects associated with freshwater habitats (e.g. Plecoptera, Ephemeroptera and Trichoptera) occur in the diet of southern African bats.

 
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