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

Incidental Disturbance

Although intentional disturbance of cave-dwelling bats as a result of vandalism and other causes is well documented and widespread, unintentional disturbance

Fig. 15.6 Land use changes leading to isolation of the Gunung Kanthan karst outcrop in Ipoh, Malaysia (created by Kendra Phelps © Google Earth)

can pose an even greater threat due to the many other reasons that humans use caves (McCracken 1989) such as opportunistic recreation, camping, caving excursions, dumping refuse and use as storage facilities. For example, the importance of the Nietoperek fortifications in Western Poland as a bat hibernaculum was first brought to the attention of bat biologists outside the Iron Curtain by a Russian plan to dump radioactive waste there. The plan was shelved as a result of a successful campaign by conservationists. Throughout Poland, groups known as “bunkermen” meet socially in underground fortifications where they may disturb the bats.

Thomas (1995) showed that non-tactile disturbance from seemingly innocent cave visits during hibernation periods can cause bats to arouse and maintain significantly greater flight activity for up to eight hours afterwards. Such arousals are highly detrimental to their over-winter survival and non-tactile disturbance during other critical periods such as reproduction may lead to: (1) death of young that lose their roost-hold and fall to the cave floor, (2) females abandoning the roost for less ideal sites where prospects for reproductive success may be reduced,

(3) greater energy expenditure among females and less efficient energy transfer to young (translating into slower growth of young and increased foraging demands on females), (4) reductions in the thermoregulatory benefits of a roost as a result of decreased numbers of bats frequenting the site (McCracken 1989; Sheffield et al. 1992).

As a result, uncontrolled human disturbance often leads to decreases in numbers of bats roosting in caves and mines (Tuttle 2013). For instance, disturbance in caves in West Virginia, USA, occupied by the Indiana myotis (M. sodalis) and Townsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) resulted in a decline from 1137 bats to 286 in one cave and from 560 to 168 in another (Stihler and Hall 1993). Conversely, when ten caves were protected by grilling and fencing,

M. sodalis populations increased, from 1615 to 6297 bats (290 %) and P. townsendii from 3455 to 7491 (117 %). Because fencing is more easily vandalized, gating is considered by many as more successful at preventing disturbance, although some bat species do not tolerate gates and it is important to establish the bat-preferred design.

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