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Keywords:

  • woodland bats;
  • habitat use;
  • woodland management;
  • understorey;
  • Plecotus auritus

Abstract

Reinstating forestry practices, such as coppicing, thinning the understorey and grazing, has become a key element of proposals for improving the conservation value of broadleaved woodlands in Europe. However, the consequences of such woodland management for bats are poorly understood because of a lack of knowledge concerning their habitat requirements. We studied the brown long-eared bat Plecotus auritus in South East England to determine how their patterns of habitat use could inform conservation management. Radio-tracking of 38 adult females showed that they foraged primarily in woodland and that each had a foraging area (mean = 4.4 ha) that they returned to on successive nights. Core foraging areas (mean = 2.1 ha) were characterized by more cover and greater species diversity in the understorey layer than more peripheral areas. Hedgerows were also used for foraging in the late summer and autumn. Most conservation activities for this species have focused on protecting roosts in houses and other buildings. While such protection is important for bat conservation, efforts should also be made to protect foraging habitats in woodlands by maintaining cover of native species in the understorey layer and hedgerows that provide connectivity between woodland patches. Common conservation management practices, such as reinstating coppicing or grazing in semi-natural broadleaved woodlands, could be detrimental for P. auritus and other woodland bats. Their impact on bats should be tested experimentally before they are widely promoted as a woodland conservation strategy.