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Landscape and scale-dependent spatial niches of bats foraging above intensively used arable fields

Ecological Processes


Introduction: Bats are threatened by agricultural intensification, and although bat ecology in agricultural landscapes is in the focus of current research, the effects of interacting spatiotemporal factors on species-specific bat activity above farmland remain understudied. Our aim was to identify spatiotemporal factors and their interactions relevant for the activity of bat species above conventionally managed arable fields. Methods: We repeatedly monitored relative bat activity above open arable fields in Germany using acoustic monitoring. We used site-related biotic and abiotic factors and landscape characteristics across five spatial scales, their combinations, and interactions to identify those factors which best explain variation in bat activity. Results: Numerous interactions between landscape characteristics and the insect abundance affected bat activity above fields. For instance, Pipistrellus pipistrellus became more active with increasing insect abundance, but only above fields with a low proportion of woody vegetation cover in the surroundings. Additionally, the level of bat activity in summer depended on landscape characteristics. For example, the activity of Pipistrellus nathusii was relatively low in summer above fields that were surrounded by vegetation patches with a high degree of edge complexity (e.g., hedgerow). However, the activity remained at a relatively high level and did not differ between seasons above fields that were surrounded by vegetation patches with a low degree of edge complexity (e.g., roundly shaped forest patch). Conclusions: Our results revealed that landscape characteristics and their interactions with insect abundance affected bat activity above conventionally managed fields and highlighted the opportunistic foraging behavior of bats. To improve the conditions for bats in agricultural landscapes, we recommend re-establishing landscape heterogeneity to protect aquatic habitats and to increase arthropod availability.

Author(s): Heim, O; Lorenz, L; Kramer-Schadt, S; Jung, K; Voigt, CC; Eccard, JA

Journal: Ecological Processes

Year: 2017