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Factors driving population recovery of the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) in the UK: implications for conservation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1601-1621
Number of pages21
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Volume26
Issue number7
Early online date17 Feb 2017
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Feb 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 17 Feb 2017
DatePublished (current) - Jun 2017

Abstract

Although populations of many bat species appear to be recovering in some European countries, the extrinsic and intrinsic factors driving these increases have not yet been assessed. Disentangling the benefits of conservation management from other factors such as climate change is a crucial step for improving evidence-based conservation strategies. We used the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) as a case study for understanding the recovery of bat populations, as its north-western populations have increased substantially over the past two decades following severe population declines. Using summer roost count data from the UK National Bat Monitoring Programme spanning an 18 year period from 1997-2014, we investigated the effects of (i) landscape characteristics associated with the implementation of the agri-environment schemes (AESs) on colony trends and size, and (ii) meteorological variables on annual colony growth rate. We also assessed the relationship between colony size and colony growth to investigate intrinsic factors such as an Allee effect. Our results indicated that colony size was positively related to a range of landscape features (e.g. amount of broadleaf woodland and grassland, and density of linear features) surrounding the roost, while the amount of artificial light at night had a significant negative effect. Spring temperatures and precipitation (the latter with a lag of one year) were associated with annual colony growth. We also identified a negative density-dependence effect within colonies. Though the conservation of essential landscape elements may have contributed to population increases in the long-term, we conclude that recent population recovery has also been driven by climate change. Finally we recommend that the conservation of photophobic bat species such as R. ferrumequinum should focus on both the improvement of foraging/commuting habitats and the creation of dark areas.

    Research areas

  • Agri-environment schemes, Climate change, Density-dependence, Landscape characteristics, Light pollution, Population trend

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