“Habitat-suitability maps” like those created with open-source software and echolocation calls collected from 15,000 bats should prove to be a powerful new conservation tool, concludes a study conducted in the Lake District of northwest England by University of Leeds scientists.
Wired magazine’s UK website, wired.co.uk, reports that the research produced the most detailed large-scale habitat suitability maps ever created for bats in the United Kingdom. The study was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
“They’re a brilliant decision-making tool, because you end up with these large, landscape-scale maps covering a huge area, but you can zoom in to get a detailed picture,” co-author Chloe Bellamy told reporter Katie Collins. “You can use it for just looking at the value of a site for a different species, or you can overlay them and have a look at hot spots where it looks like it’s really good for a range of bat species, or where it looks like we need to improve things for bats.
|A soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus). © Jeroen van der Kooij, BCI
“Say I want to put in a road somewhere; where would be the best place to put the road? You could try rerunning the model, putting the road in different places and seeing what impact it has on the habitat suitability for a range of bat species and choosing the best solution. This kind of scenario-modeling toolkit could be really useful.”
And, Collins wrote, bats are recognized as indicator species for the overall health of whole ecosystems.
The maps reflect the likelihood of finding bats due to the characteristics of both their immediate local environment and the much wider landscape. Wired said: “They not only provided highly detailed insight into how bats are affected by changes to the countryside, but also show how to best protect those areas in which bats are thriving.”
Software created by co-author Chris Scott of the University of Leeds, the magazine said, allowed researchers facing thousands of echolocation recordings to distinguish among the calls of all eight bat species tracked in the project.
“Using these habitat-suitability models,” Bellamy said, “we learn a huge amount about the ecology and behavior of each of the different species.” She told Wired they discovered that noctule bats, very high, fast flyers and the largest bats in the UK, avoid living at high altitudes.
And she told Wired, the common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle, which were considered a single species until the 1990s, have unexpectedly distinct habitat requirements. The common pipistrelle likes to use near woods-lined country lanes as foraging routes, while the sopranos prefer to roost near large water bodies of water.
For the habitat mapping, the team used open-source software called Maxent (maximum entropy). Collins reports that Bellamy is now working with the University of Leeds to encourage greater use of habitat-suitability modeling by conservationists, especially since huge amounts of environmental data are readily available online.
The concept, she said, “can be applied in all different situations to all different types of species and all different environments.”