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

Conservation Threats

Due to their low annual reproductive rates, bat populations take a relatively long time to recover from population losses associated with human activities (Racey and Entwistle 2000). Slow population growth rates thus exacerbate existing threats to bat populations. This poses a particular problem for cave-dwelling bats, particularly species which are gregarious and colonial, as any intrusion into the relatively small and confined spaces that caves provide tends to affect the entire aggregation (McCracken 1989). The fact that large numbers of individuals are often concentrated into only a few specific roost sites results in high potential for disturbance (Sheffield et al. 1992). It also increases the potential for Allee effects—recently redefined as a positive relationship between any component of individual fitness and either numbers or density of conspecifics (Stephens et al. 1999).

Caves have a long history of human use, with the earliest direct evidence of occupation dating back to at least 700,000 BP (from the Peking person site near Beijing, China: Gillieson 1996). Originally providing havens for prehistoric hunter-gatherers, caves across the world have since served a remarkable range of purposes. These include military fortifications and wartime refuges, horticultural uses, sanatoria for patients with respiratory and other ailments, sites for religious worship and burial, storage and dumping facilities, sources of water and fertilizer, and finally, destinations for opportunistic recreation and commercial tourism. More generally, because karst is highly porous, the integrity of caves in karst areas depends on complex interactions between hydrology, biology and geomorphology within their catchments. As the health of broader subterranean communities is strongly influenced by their surrounding environment, activities impacting cave-dwelling life consequently include those affecting the surface environment (Watson et al. 1997; Vermeulen and Whitten 1999).

 
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