Ecology and conservation of insectivorous bats in fragmented areas of macadamia production in eastern Australia

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Journal Article
Austral Ecology, 2017, 42 (5), pp. 597 - 610
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© 2016 Ecological Society of Australia Microbats perform important ecological services in agro-ecosystems, but several species are globally threatened by loss of roosting and breeding habitats. The successful conservation of bats in agricultural land requires adequate knowledge of their ecology. Using ultrasonic recorders, we studied the activity of insectivorous bats in areas of macadamia production in eastern Australia at two spatial scales: across woodland-orchard transects at the local scale and across three levels of fragmentation at the landscape scale. At the local scale, activity patterns of ‘clutter’ and ‘edge’ specialists were consistently higher in woodland patches, gradually decreasing towards isolated orchards, where only a few ‘open’ specialists were active. At the landscape scale, bat community activity was affected by the level of fragmentation, partly because three of the most recorded taxa (Austronomus australis, Saccolaimus flaviventris and Miniopterus australis) had their highest activity in less-fragmented areas. A distance-based model explained 24% of the bat community activity based on a combination of six environmental variables. Canonical correspondence analysis showed that a number of bat taxa were associated with open areas of macadamia, whereas other taxa were associated with increasing values of landscape composition, and arthropod and water availability. In addition, total bat activity was highly correlated with foraging rate. These results suggest that most bat taxa were influenced by proximity to woodland and the degree of fragmentation, and only few taxa were able to exploit isolated orchards. Environmental factors that promote bat activity could be exploited to strengthen conservation efforts. Preserving remnant woodland and promoting habitat heterogeneity will benefit several bat species. In particular, the foraging activity of ‘edge’ specialists could be fostered by increasing landscape connectivity and maintaining unobstructed water bodies near macadamia orchards. Considering that bats forage as they navigate these areas, conservation efforts could also bring benefits to farmers through pest-reduction services.
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