Date of this Version
Ecol Solut Evid. 2023;4:e12217. https://doi.org/10.1002/2688-8319.12217
Emerging infectious diseases in wildlife can threaten vulnerable host populations. Actions targeting habitat improvements to aid population resilience and recovery may be beneficial long-term strategies, yet testing the efficacy of such strategies before major conservation investments are made can be challenging.
The disease white-nose syndrome (WNS) has caused severe declines in several species of North American hibernating bats. We tested a novel conservation approach targeted at improving foraging conditions near bat hibernacula by experimentally manipulating insect density in the pre-hibernation fattening period and spring emergence recovery period. We measured foraging (feeding buzzes) and echolocation activity of little brown bats Myotis lucifugus at ultraviolet (UV) light lures to determine behavioural response to augmented foraging conditions and characterized insect availability at UV light lures.
In the fall, bat foraging activity was three times greater (95% CI: 1.5–5.8; p = 0.002) when UV lights were on, but there was no statistical support for differences in echolocation activity response when our experimental design alternated between nights with lights on and off. In the spring, we allowed UV light lures to run consistently each night and compared with a control location in similar habitat. Bat foraging activity was 8.5 times greater (95% CI: 4.5–16.0; p < 0.0001) and echolocation activity was 4.4 times higher (95% CI: 3.0–6.5; p < 0.0001) at UV light lures in the spring experiment. In both the fall and spring, UV light lures resulted in concentrated insect availability, attracting primarily moths (Order: Lepidoptera). In both seasons, nightly temperature had a strong influence on bat foraging, echolocation and insect activity.
We show that a bat species threatened by WNS used enhanced foraging habitats near hibernacula during the critical pre-and post-hibernation phases of their annual cycle. While light lures are unlikely to be a long-term management strategy, our experiment provides initial evidence that bats behaviourally respond with increased foraging activity in areas with augmented insect prey availability. Our experimental results support developing management strategies focused on habitat protection, including restoration and enhancement of foraging habitats, in the immediate vicinity of bat hibernacula.
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