Citation Kirkpatrick L, Graham J, McGregor S, Munro L, Scoarize M & Park K (2018) Flexible foraging strategies in Pipistrellus pygmaeus in response to abundant but ephemeral prey. PLOS ONE, 13 (10), Art. No.: e0204511. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204511
Abstract There is growing recognition that with sympathetic management, plantation forests may contain more biodiversity than previously thought. However, the extent to which they may support bat populations is contentious. Many studies have demonstrated active avoidance of coniferous plantations and attributed this to the lack of available roost sites and low invertebrate density. In contrast, other work , carried out in plantation dominated landscapes have shown that certain bat species are able to exploit these areas. However, the extent to which bats use plantations for roosting and foraging, or simply move through the plantation matrix to access more favourable sites is unclear. We radio tracked female Pipistrellus pygmaeus over two summers to establish the extent to which individual bats use Sitka Spruce plantations in southern Scotland for foraging and roosting and assess the implications for felling operations on bats. Maternity roosts identified (n=17) were in all in buildings and most were large (> 500 individuals). We found no evidence of bats roosting in mature Sitka Spruce crop trees, although several bats used roosts in old or dead beech and oak trees as an alternative to their main maternity roost. Home ranges were much larger (mean 9.6 ± 3.12 km2) than those reported from other studies ((0.6 – 1.6 km2), and it is likely that roost availability rather than food abundance constrains P. pygmaeus use of Sitka Spruce plantations. At the landscape scale, most individuals selected coniferous habitats over other habitat types, covering large distances to access plantation areas, whilst at a local scale bats used forest tracks to access water, felled stands or patches of broadleaf cover within the plantation. Sitka Spruce plantations support a high abundance of Culicoides impuctatus, the Highland midge which may act as a reliable and plentiful food source for females during lactation, an energetically expensive period. The use of felled stands for foraging by bats has implications for forest management as wind turbines, following small-scale felling operations, are increasingly being installed in plantations; wind turbines have been associated with high bat mortality in some countries. Decisions about siting wind turbines in upland plantations should consider the likelihood of increased bat activity post felling.