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

Cave Selection

The numbers and diversity of bats found in caves are influenced by their dimensions, structural complexity and microclimate, the availability of food in the surrounding landscape, parasite and predation pressure, human disturbance, historical use by bats, their maneuverabilty in flight and interactions between species. Considering how important caves are for global and local bat biodiversity, there have been relatively few studies of these factors. For instance, half of the bat species known from a 155 km2 karst reserve in North Vietnam (21/42) used a single large cave over a 23 month period (Furey et al. 2011), whereas in Malaysia, Struebig et al. (2009) found that a single area of karst caves had a dominant influence on bat assemblage composition at non-karst sites up to 11 km away through the presence of two cave-dwelling species.

Brunet and Medellin (2001) revealed a positive relationship between species richness and cave surface area in central Mexico. Roost site diversity as indicated by spatial variation in relative humidity and the presence of erosion domes in cave ceilings (Fig. 15.3) was associated with this species-area relationship. Consistent with this, Arita (1996) found that the largest caves in the northern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico harbored the most diverse assemblages and largest populations, including several species of conservation concern. At a national level however, Arita (1993b) found that few of the vulnerable species of Mexican bats roost in caves with high species richness or large populations, suggesting that conservation plans based solely on diversity would not adequately protect the country's cave bat fauna. Non-random associations are also common among bats roosting in the hot caves of Puerto Rico and Rodriguez-Durán (1998) speculated that interspecific variation in peak emergence times associated with temporal differences in foraging patterns might allow these caves to support more bats than would be possible in a monospecific colony or random assemblage of species.

Fig. 15.3 Cave roost of Taphozous melanopogon in an erosion dome in Thailand (single bat to left of the main group is Eonycteris spelaea (© Pipat Soisook)

In a study of the cave complex in Ankarana National Park in the limestone massif of northern Madagascar, Cardiff (2006) found that longer caves, more complex caves, those with larger entrances or with entrances at lower elevation and those with less temporal variation in ambient temperature all had significantly higher bat species richness. In a similar study in the karstic Bemaraha National Park in western Madagascar, Kofoky et al. (2007) found that species richness and abundance was low in all but one of 16 caves—Anjohikinakina, which contained five species and over 9000 individuals of one. This cave was difficult to access and, unlike some of the others in the national park, was seldom visited by tourists.

These findings are broadly reflected in East Asia. In a study of 255 subterranean sites in central and eastern China, Luo et al. (2013) found that bat species richness was positively correlated with cave size and negatively correlated with human disturbance. The incidence of nationally threatened and endemic species was also positively correlated with species richness, which was greater in caves formerly used for tourism than in abandoned mines. In a study of 25 subterranean sites in Funiu Mountain (eastern China), Niu et al. (2007) similarly found that bat species distributions were highly dependent on the type and size of roost, with large caves supporting unusually high species richness and abundances. Over 80 % of the bats recorded were located on the southern side of the mountain which was attributed to climatic differences (higher annual rainfall and average temperatures) and the higher incidence of large caves there.

Nagy and Postawa (2010) further explored the relationship between cave variables and bat occupancy during the hibernation and breeding seasons in 79 caves in mountainous areas of Romania. Maternity colonies were divided between species that select either high or low temperatures, whereas winter aggregations were divided across three groups: (i) species that prefer high temperatures and hibernate at low altitudes, (ii) species preferring midto high elevations and low temperatures, and, (iii) species that hibernate in large, cold cave systems with permanent water flow. Piksa et al. (2013) also found that the species richness and assemblage structure of hibernating bats varied altitudinally across 70 caves in the nearby Carpathian mountains of southern Poland, such that stepped changes occurred in assemblage structure that reflected zones observed in vegetation. Geographical location and temperature were found to be the most important factors influencing overall species occurrence by Nagy and Postawa (2010) and their results support Brunet and Medellin's (2001) conclusion that high cave densities provide suitable conditions for large populations of different bat species.

The influence of external environment or “ecological context” on cave selection by bats appears little studied, particularly in terms of access to factors such as food and water. Nevertheless, there seems little doubt that, as in foliage-roosting species, persistent degradation and loss of foraging habitats is likely to threaten the viability of cave-dwelling populations as a result of increased nightly commuting costs and poorer foraging conditions reducing individual fitness (Kingston 2013). For instance, in a comparative study of pristine and modified forests in Vietnamese karst, Furey et al. (2010) found that although species richness was only slightly reduced, the abundance of cave-dwelling rhinolophids and hipposiderids in disturbed and degraded forests was less than a third of that in primary forest, despite comparable sampling effort and availability of caves. In addition, as cave-dwelling species in Asia differ considerably in their wing morphology and thus vagility (Furey 2009), it would appear likely that progressive isolation of cave roosts in anthropogenic landscapes will differentially affect species with weaker dispersal abilities (Fig. 15.4). However, these potential population and species losses may be mitigated to some extent by increases in the abundance of species that use human-made habitats (Mendenhall et al. 2014).

 
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