Recurring fires in Mediterranean habitats and their impact on bats

Abstract

The pyrodiversity begets biodiversity hypothesis suggests that wildfires drive habitat diversification, allowing species with different niches to coexist and increasing biodiversity. However, despite numerous wildfires studies, limited research has addressed species-specific effects of fire recurrence. We radio-tracked grey long-eared bats (Plecotus austriacus) from the largest maternity roost (a historical monastery) in an area of the Mediterranean coastal belt with one of the highest fire recurrence rates. Although shrublands cover over 80% of the surroundings and P. austriacus is known to forage in a wide range of habitats, the tracked bats barely used this habitat. They spent 92% of their flight time in scattered small Aleppo pine forest fragments, and never visited any habitat patches that burnt more than three times in the last 30 years. We also report some of the longest foraging and commuting distances (9.95 and 10.5 km) from the roost described for the species in the literature. These results showcase how P. austriacus essentially forage in small forest fragments avoiding recurrently burnt areas, and highlight the colonies’ dependence on the monastery, probably due to limited alternative roost availability. This knowledge needs to be built on and accounted for in biodiversity conservation policies to ensure that species-specific responses to recurring fires in the Mediterranean are addressed.

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Availability of data and material

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author, [author initials], upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

The current study was supported by the Parc Natural del Cap de Creus., Generalitat de Catalunya We are most grateful to Lídia Freixas, Ruth Ràfols and Albert Burgas for their valuable help in the field, and the Parc Natural del Cap de Creus staff (Victòria Riera, Gerard Carrión, Xavier Turrà and Dànae Garcia) for their assistance in the field sampling design and logistics. We thank the Department de Cultura de la Generalitat, and workers from the Monestir de St. Pere de Rodes (Sònia Mas Martí Requesens, Margarida García-Alzina, Ovídia Barneo, Basi Moncayo and Jordi Planella) for their support, initiative and effort. Last but not least, we are grateful to Cecilia Montauban and two anonymous reviewers for the proofreading and constructive criticism of the manuscript.

Funding

This Project was funded by the Cap de Creus Natural Park and supported by the Natural Science Museum of Granollers.

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CF and XPM conceived and presented the idea and the experimental design, CF, XPM and ALB carried out the fieldwork, XPM and ALB performed the statistical analyses, ALB, XPM and MM wrote the manuscript, PP contributed and supervised the manuscript writing as an expert on wildfire studies and management. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Adrià López-Baucells.

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Bat capture and handling were conducted following guidelines approved by the American Society of Mammalogists (Sikes and Gannon 2011) and in accordance with Spanish Conservation and Animal Welfare laws. This research was also conducted under the correspondent Catalan Government permit.

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López-Baucells, A., Flaquer, C., Mas, M. et al. Recurring fires in Mediterranean habitats and their impact on bats. Biodivers Conserv 30, 385–402 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-020-02095-2

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Keywords

  • Forest fragments
  • Landscape composition
  • Mediterranean bats
  • Pyrodiversity
  • Radio-tracking
  • Wildfires