Action: Legally protect bat habitats
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- Five studies evaluated the effects of legally protecting bat habitats on bat populations. Four studies were in Europe, and one in India.
COMMUNITY RESPONSE (2 STUDIES)
- Community composition (1 study): One replicated, site comparison study in India found that the composition of bat species was similar in protected forest and unprotected forest fragments.
- Richness/diversity (2 studies): Two replicated, site comparison or paired sites studies in Europe and India found that the number of bat species did not differ between protected and unprotected forests or forest fragments. One replicated, site comparison study in France found that protected sites had a greater number of bat species than unprotected sites.
POPULATION RESPONSE (4 STUDIES)
- Abundance (4 studies): One replicated, site comparison study in the UK found that the activity (relative abundance) of Daubenton’s bats was higher over rivers on farms in protected areas than in unprotected areas. One replicated, paired sites study in Europe found that the activity of common noctule bats was higher in protected forests than unprotected forests, but bat activity overall did not differ. Two replicated, site comparison studies in France and India found higher overall bat activity, higher activity of three of six bat species/species groups and a greater number of bats in protected sites and forests than unprotected sites and forests.
BEHAVIOUR (1 STUDY)
- Use (1 study): One study in Spain found that the distributions of 10 of 11 bat species overlapped with areas designated to protect them significantly more than by chance.
National legislation for bats varies around the world. In some countries, bat roosts and important bat habitats are legally protected, but in others there is no protection at all.
It can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of legally protected areas as there may be no suitable controls. Monitoring often only begins with the designation of the protected area and they are often in areas that would be less likely to be cleared even if it was not protected. Most of the available evidence comes from comparisons of protected and unprotected sites.
For other interventions relating to the legal protection of bats, see ‘Threat: Residential and commercial development – Legally protect bats during development’ and ‘Species management – Legally protect bat species’.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A replicated, site comparison study in 2009–2012 of 80 rivers on farms in Wales, UK (Macdonald et al. 2012) found that rivers in protected areas had higher activity of Daubenton’s bats Myotis daubentonii than rivers in unprotected areas, but the activity of soprano pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus did not differ between protected and unprotected areas. The average number of bat passes/year for Daubenton’s bats was higher over rivers in protected areas on both agri-environment farms (2.3 bat passes) and conventional farms (3.3 bat passes) than rivers in unprotected areas on agri-environment scheme farms (1.6 bat passes) and conventional farms (2.3 bat passes). A similar number of bat passes/year were recorded over rivers in protected and unprotected areas for soprano pipistrelles (data not reported). Surveys were carried out at 46 protected rivers (26 on agri-environment scheme farms, 20 on conventional farms) and 34 unprotected rivers (14 on agri-environment scheme farms, 20 20 on conventional farms). Protected areas were designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. No details are reported about the origin of the rivers; water may have originated from outside the protected area. One transect survey was carried out along each river in August and September in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
A study in 2015 of protected areas in Spain (Lisón et al 2015) found that the distributions of 10 of 11 target bat species and 13 of 18 non-target bat species overlapped with protected ‘Special Conservation Areas’ (SACs) significantly more than expected by chance. The distributions of nine of 11 target bat species and 13 of 18 non-target bat species also overlapped with ‘Special Protection Areas’ (SPAs) designated to protect birds. The amount of overlap between bat species distributions and either of the protected area types did not differ significantly between target and non-target species. Both SPAs and SACs were part of the legally protected European Natura 2000 network. Target species were of highest conservation concern and listed in Annex II of the European Habitats Directive. All other (non-target) bat species were listed in Annex IV. The mean percentage overlap between species distributions (grid cells in which the species occurred) and the protected areas were calculated using an existing bat dataset for mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands.
A replicated, paired sites study in 2011–2012 in 11 managed beech Fagus sylvatica forests in Germany, Austria, France and the UK (Zehetmair et al. 2015) found that legally protected forests had higher activity for one of 20 bat species than unprotected forests, but overall bat activity and the number of bat species was similar between protected and unprotected forests. The number of common noctule Nyctalus noctula calls was higher in protected (141 calls) than unprotected forests (18 calls). However, the difference was not significant for 19 other bat species (see original paper for detailed results) or the number of bat calls recorded overall (protected forests: 1,223 calls; unprotected forests: 1,995 calls). The same was true for species richness (17 bat species recorded in both protected and unprotected forests). Surveys were conducted in 11 pairs of forest (one protected, one unprotected) managed for timber production. Protected forests were part of the Natura 2000 network. All stands were >10 ha with trees 80–120 years old and had a similar number of roost trees and volume of snags. Bat activity was recorded with bat detectors at eight locations per stand during one full night in May or July in 2011 or 2012.
A replicated, site comparison study in 2006–2013 along 1,608 road transects in France (Kerbiriou et al. 2018) found that legally protected sites had higher overall bat activity, more bat species, and higher activity of three of six bat species/species groups than unprotected sites. Overall bat activity was 24% higher within protected sites than outside them, and the number of bat species recorded was 14% higher (data reported as statistical model results). The activity of three bat species/species groups was also higher within protected sites than unprotected sites: common pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus (14% higher in protected sites), serotine bat Eptesicus serotinus (105% higher) and Myotis spp. (368% higher). For three other bat species (Kuhl’s pipistrelle Pipistrellus kuhlii, common noctule bat Nyctalus noctula, Leisler’s bat Nyctalus leisleri) activity did not differ between protected and unprotected sites. Legally protected sites were part of the Natura 2000 network. Data were collected as part of a citizen science program. Volunteers recorded bat activity while driving along 1,608 x 2 km road transects (each repeated an average of 2.4 times) through different habitats in protected and unprotected areas (number of sites for each not reported) between June and July in 2006–2013.
A replicated, site comparison study in 2010–2013 of 10 rainforest sites in the Western Ghats, India (Wordley et al. 2018) found that protected forest had a greater number of bats than unprotected forest fragments, but the number of bat species and species compositions were similar. The total number of bats captured and recorded was higher in protected forest (average 35 bats/site) than unprotected forest fragments (17 bats/site). However, the average number of bat species recorded did not differ significantly (protected forest: 8 bat species/site; unprotected forest fragments: 6 bat species/site), and nor did the composition of bat species (data reported as statistical model results). Seventeen bat species were recorded in total (see original paper for data for individual species). Five protected rainforest sites and five unprotected rainforest fragments (2–103 ha) were surveyed. At each of 10 sites, bats were captured with five mist nets and recorded with bat detectors at five sampling points during two nights between January and May in 2010–2013 and November–December 2014.
- MacDonald M.A., Morris A.J., Dodd S., Johnstone I., Beresford A., Angell R., Haysom K., Langton S., Tordoff G., Brereton T., Hobson R., Shellswell C., Hutchinson N., Dines T., Wilberforce E.M., Parry R. & Matthews V. (2012) Welsh Assembly Government Contract 183/2007/08 to Undertake Agri-environment Monitoring and Services. Lot 2 – Species Monitoring. Final report: October 2012.
- Lisón F., Sánchez-Fernández D. & Calvo J.F. (2015) Are species listed in the Annex II of the Habitats Directive better represented in Natura 2000 network than the remaining species? A test using Spanish bats. Biodiversity and Conservation, 24, 2459-2473
- Zehetmair T., Müller J., Runkel V., Stahlschmidt P., Winter S., Zharov A. & Gruppe A. (2015) Poor effectiveness of Natura 2000 beech forests in protecting forest-dwelling bats. Journal for Nature Conservation, 23, 53-60
- Kerbiriou C., Azam C., Touroult J., Marmet J., Julien J.-F. & Pellissier V. (2018) Common bats are more abundant within Natura 2000 areas. Biological Conservation, 217, 66-74
- Wordley C.F.R., Sankaran M., Mudappa D. & Altringham J.D. (2018) Heard but not seen: Comparing bat assemblages and study methods in a mosaic landscape in the Western Ghats of India. Ecology & Evolution, 8, 3883-3894