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Irregular silviculture positively influences multiple bat species in a lowland temperate broadleaf woodland

Alder, DC, Poore, A, Norrey, J, Newson, SE and Marsden, SJ (2021) Irregular silviculture positively influences multiple bat species in a lowland temperate broadleaf woodland. Forest Ecology and Management, 483. p. 118786. ISSN 0378-1127

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Abstract

Changing economics in the 20th century led to losses and fragmentation of semi-natural woodland in Britain and to a reduction in active woodland management with many becoming increasingly neglected, even-aged and with closed canopy. Lack of woodland management is known to contribute to declines in some taxonomic groups, for example birds. However, the response of bats to changes in woodland structure are poorly understood. We compared two measures of bat activity, derived from static acoustic recorders across 120 sample plots in coppice, irregular high forest (uneven-aged, continuous cover) and limited intervention (under-managed, even-aged) management stands, within a large tract of ancient woodland in southern England. Bat species richness was highest in irregular high forest stands, and there were significant differences in occupancy rates for most bat species across stand management types. Coppice recorded low activity of several bat species and irregular high forest showed high occupancy rates, including for Barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus, which is IUCN listed as near threatened. The occupancy rates in stand management types differed for some bat species between mid- and late summer counts, suggesting seasonal variation in habitat use. Within stands, most bat species were associated with opened canopy, lower growing stocks and reduced densities of understorey, and to a lesser extent, with large-girthed trees and presence of deadwood snags. In some cases, species responded to a given habitat variable similarly across the three stand management types, whereas in others, the response differed among stand management types. For example, increased numbers of large-girthed trees benefitted a number of bat species within coppice where these were least common, but not in irregular stands. Irregular silviculture high forest appears to provide many of the structural attributes that positively influence occupancy of several woodland bat species, including Barbastella barbastellus.

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