Acacia trees crucial to Israel's desert bats, study finds

Feb 20, 2013
Acacia trees crucial to Israel's desert bats, study finds

Greater conservation of threatened acacia trees is needed to preserve vulnerable species of rare insectivorous bats in Israel, according to new research by biologists at the University of Bristol. Dense areas of flourishing acacia trees are in decline due to increasing water stress and the encroachment of human activity into their ecosystem, but such trees represent the only habitat that supports some rare and endangered species of bat.

In a study published today in , Dr Marc Holderied and colleagues from Bristol's School of Biological Sciences and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel demonstrate the importance of dense acacia tree habitats for protected bats and their arthropod prey (for example, insects, spiders and scorpions) in comparison to other natural and artificial habitats.

The researchers used acoustic monitoring of bat calls and collecting arthropods using light and pit traps to sample species.  They found that, where are most dense and healthy, and species diversity are highest.  Since arthropod numbers didn't vary the same way between the different habitats investigated, the researchers conclude that the greater bat diversity at acacia trees is not solely a result of differences in prey numbers.  In the hottest and driest times of the year, only healthy Acacia trees maintained high prey numbers showing their particular importance during such bottlenecks in food supply.

Acacia trees crucial to Israel's desert bats, study finds
Acacia tree.

Exclusively at healthy Acacis trees, the researchers captured recordings of two very rare : Nycteris thebaica and Barbastella leucomelas, a species which has only been recorded five times previously in Israel.

As predicted, the artificial habitats that were studied – date plantations and village sites – also had high levels of insect and bat activity.  The well-irrigated and lit environments attract arthropods and consequently the insectivorous bat predators.  However, in these environments, of bats was reduced and biased against species typically found in deserts.

Talya Hackett, lead author of the paper, said: "While man-made environments could represent a suitable alternative foraging environment for some species of bat, many of the more threatened species were only recorded at the declining acacia habitat.  This highlights the importance of increasing conservation efforts of dense acacia habitats to protect this vital ecosystem for an entire diverse community of protected bats."

Because of their expertise in acoustic monitoring of bats in Middle Eastern deserts, Dr Marc Holderied and Talya Hackett were invited to lead a UNEP Eurobats-funded workshop hosted by Jordan's Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature last summer.  This workshop, which took place in nature reserves in Jordan, was organised to train wildlife biologists from countries of the Middle East in bat acoustic monitoring so they could apply these skills to improving bat conservation. 

Explore further: Research shows impact of BMR on brain size in fish

More information: Hackett, T. et al. The importance of Acacia trees for insectivorous bats and arthropods in the Arava desert, PLOS ONE. dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0052999

Related Stories

New website calls for help from bat detectives

Oct 03, 2012

Scientists are asking for the public's help to monitor bats across Europe and track changes in our environment by listening to their weirdly wonderful ultrasonic tweets on a new website.

Food forensics: DNA links habitat quality to bat diet

Mar 03, 2011

All night long, bats swoop over our landscape consuming insects, but they do this in secret, hidden from our view. Until recently, scientists have been unable to bring their ecosystem out of the dark but thanks to new genetic ...

Recommended for you

Research shows impact of BMR on brain size in fish

Apr 24, 2015

A commonly used term to describe nutritional needs and energy expenditure in humans – basal metabolic rate – could also be used to give insight into brain size of ocean fish, according to new research by Dr Teresa Iglesias ...

Why do animals fight members of other species?

Apr 23, 2015

Why do animals fight with members of other species? A nine-year study by UCLA biologists says the reason often has to do with "obtaining priority access to females" in the area.

Dolphins use extra energy to communicate in noisy waters

Apr 23, 2015

Dolphins that raise their voices to be heard in noisy environments expend extra energy in doing so, according to new research that for the first time measures the biological costs to marine mammals of trying ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.