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Microbat responses to forest decline

Wentzel, J.J., Craig, M.D., Barber, P.A., Hardy, G.E.St.J. and Fleming, P.A.ORCID: 0000-0002-0626-3851 (2018) Microbat responses to forest decline. Austral Ecology, 44 (2). pp. 265-275.

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Tree declines have been recorded across forests and woodlands on most continents, causing tree mortality over thousands of square kilometres, yet the impact of tree declines upon mammals have only rarely been quantified. Once the dominant tree over the western parts of the Swan Coastal Plain in Western Australia, tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) forest has been reduced to less than a third of its former range through clearing for agriculture and urban development. Additionally, over the last 30 years, the remnant population has been heavily impacted by a decline that has an unknown cause, but is likely related to a root pathogen coupled with abiotic factors (reduced rainfall, increased salinity and elevated temperatures). Tuart decline is evident as marked canopy dieback, replacement with epicormic growth and increasing bare branches, while leaf litter is lost from the tree surrounds. We examined the effect of tuart decline and other vegetation measures upon bat activity using auditory monitoring. Vegetation structure was correlated with Vespertilionidae bat activity. Falsistrellus mackenziei were more likely to forage around healthy canopies (activity positively correlated with tuart crown density and negatively correlated with tuart crown dieback). By contrast, the other three taxa were more often encountered in declining rather than healthy tuart sites. Chalinolobus gouldii was positively associated with tuart crown dieback. Activity of Vespadelus regulus and Nyctophilus spp. (species not distinguishable from their calls) were significantly positively correlated with an open tall canopy (positively with cover of plants >10 m tall and negatively with overall canopy cover density). There were no vegetation measurements that were strong predictors of activity of two Molossidae species (Ozimops kitcheneri and Austronomus australis), which intercept insects above the forest canopy. This study clearly reveals different factors influencing the activity of bat taxa, which are likely related to where they feed and their manoeuvrability around tree canopies.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Centre of Excellence for Climate Change and Forest and Woodland Health
School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Wiley Online
Copyright: © 2018 Ecological Society of Australia
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