Citation Fuentes-Montemayor E (2011) The value of agri-environment schemes and farm woodland for bats and nocturnal insects. Doctor of Philosophy. University of Stirling. http://hdl.handle.net/1893/3445
Abstract Many bat species in Europe have undergone severe population declines during the last century and one of the driving causes is believed to be the loss of roosting and foraging habitat through agricultural expansion and intensification. Modern agricultural practices have also had strong negative effects on many insect groups, such as moths, which are important components of the diets of many bat species. Agri-environment schemes (AES) have been introduced in many countries as an attempt to counteract the negative effects of intensive agriculture on biodiversity by providing financial incentives for farmers to adopt environmentally-sensitive agricultural practices. AES are potentially beneficial to bats and nocturnal insects, but the response of these taxa to their implementation had not been assessed prior to this study. Here, the potential benefits (or otherwise) that bats and their insect prey species gain from the implementation of certain AES management prescriptions was assessed using ultrasonic detectors (to assess bat activity levels) and heath light traps (to quantify nocturnal insect abundance) at 18 pairs of AES and conventionally-managed farms. In addition, the influence of the surrounding landscape on bats and insects was quantified to evaluate the relevance of a landscape-scale management approach for the conservation of these taxa. Some of the AES prescriptions assessed in this study benefited moths (and are potentially beneficial for moth-eating bats), but not Pipistrelle bats nor their insect prey. The most important factors associated with bat activity on farmland were metrics related to woodland configuration in the surrounding landscape, which suggests that conservation efforts for bats should focus on the creation and management of this habitat. Currently, some AES prescriptions aim to increase the amount and quality of woodland on agricultural land, but little is known about how woodland character relates to bat abundance and insect prey availability; therefore, recommendations for woodland creation and management rarely consider the requirements of foraging bats. Here, the influence of woodland character (e.g. vegetation structure and patch configuration) on bats and nocturnal insects was assessed. Vegetation surveys were conducted and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) were used to quantify the vegetation character and spatial configuration of 34 woodland patches within farmland. Two complementary methods (acoustic monitoring and bat trapping assisted by an acoustic lure) were used to assess the influence of woodland vegetation character, patch configuration and the surrounding landscape on bat populations. Nocturnal insect abundance at each site was assessed using heath light traps. Data presented here demonstrate that bats show species-specific associations with woodland vegetation structure and patch configuration; patterns of higher bat abundance and activity at small and isolated woodland patches suggest that bats utilize this habitat more intensively in landscapes where woodland is scarce. This thesis also shows that moths are strongly influenced by woodland character; in general, large woodland patches of compact shapes, composed of a large number of native tree species and a dense understory cover, and located close to other woodlands were associated with high moth abundance and species richness (and are potentially valuable for moth-eating bats). Other nocturnal insects (mainly Diptera) were not influenced by woodland character. This study also shows that bats and nocturnal insects are influenced by the landscape context; moths are mainly influenced by the extent of semi-natural environment (such as rough grassland and scrub) within small spatial scales (within 250 m; although effects of woodland extent were detected at larger spatial scales for woodland specialists moths). Bats are mainly influenced by woodland-related landscape metrics. Some bat species are influenced by the surrounding landscape at large spatial scales (within 3 km) and would benefit from woodland creation and management at a wide-landscape-scale. The findings presented in this thesis have important management implications for the design of agri-environment schemes. A list of management recommendations to optimize the benefits that bats and nocturnal insects gain from these schemes is presented in the final section.