Agricultural intensification has led to widespread declines in biodiversity. An important component of agricultural intensification in many regions, including eastern Ontario, is the shift from grazing lands and perennial forage crops to annual row crops, with associated increases in use of pesticides.
We predicted that bat abundance and diversity would be lower in sites surrounded by landscapes with more agriculture and where the agriculture was dominated by annual row crops rather than perennial forage crops.
We assessed bat occurrence and relative bat abundance with acoustic bat recorders at the centres of 32 landscapes that varied in (1) the proportion of agriculture and (2) the proportion of agriculture that is in annual row crops versus perennial forages (pasture and hay).
Consistent with our first prediction, the abundance or presence of four bat species, total bat abundance and bat species richness declined with increasing agricultural cover in the surrounding landscape. Inconsistent with our second prediction, the abundance of three bat species, total bat abundance and bat species richness were greatest where the proportion of agriculture in annual crops was about equal to the proportion in perennial forage in the surrounding landscape.
Based on these results, bat abundance and richness can be increased in agricultural landscapes by reducing the conversion of natural areas to agriculture and by maintaining a balance of perennial forage and annual crop types. We speculate that farmlands with a diversity of crop types provide a more temporally stable supply of insect food for bats.
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We would like to thank Kevin Hannah, Elyse Howat, and Russ Weeber at the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) for performing the landscape selection work that provided us with candidate sites to choose from. We are also grateful to Laurens Put and Michelle Vala for their assistance with fieldwork, Charles Francis (CWS, ECCC) for his constructive comments and access to the bat recorders, Scott Wilson (WRD, ECCC) for his role in developing the project, and Dan Bert for logistical support. Thanks to Kevin Ethier and Liv Monck-Whipp for their advice on acoustic bat sampling, and again to Kevin for allowing us to use his QDFA model. We also acknowledge Amanda Adams, Lauren Hooton and Brock Fenton for providing the reference bat passes that the QDFA model uses. This work was supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) grants to LF and by Environment and Climate Change Canada.
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Put, J.E., Fahrig, L. & Mitchell, G.W. Bats respond negatively to increases in the amount and homogenization of agricultural land cover. Landscape Ecol 34, 1889–1903 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-019-00855-2
- Landscape context
- Landscape composition
- Scale of effect
- Agricultural intensification
- Multi-scale analysis