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Response of bat species to sylvo-pastoral abandonment
Forest Ecology and Management
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We assessed the effect of abandonment of sylvo-pastoral practices in chestnut orchards (Castanea sativa) on bats in southern Switzerland to determine practical recommendations for bat conservation. We compared bat species richness and foraging activities between traditionally managed and unmanaged chestnut orchards, testing the hypothesis that managed orchards provide better foraging opportunities and harbour more bat species. Echolocation calls of foraging bats were sampled simultaneously at paired sites of managed and unmanaged orchards using custom made recorders. Vegetation structure and aerial insect availability were sampled at the recording sites and used as explanatory variables in the model. In a paired sampling design, we found twice the number of bat species (12) and five times higher total foraging activity in the managed chestnut orchards compared to the unmanaged ones. Bat species with low flight manoeuvrability were 14 times more common in managed orchards, whereas bats with medium to high manoeuvrability were only 5 times more common than in abandoned orchards. The vegetation structure was less dense in managed orchards. However, management did not affect relative insect abundance. Bats primarily visited the most open orchards, free of undergrowth. As a result of restricted access into the overgrown forests, the abandonment of chestnut orchards leads to a decline in bat species richness and foraging activities. Continued management of chestnut orchards to maintain an open structure is important for the conservation of endangered bat species in the southern Swiss Alps.
Castanea sativa, Chiroptera, Acoustic monitoring, Bat activity, Species richness, Forest management
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