The use of bat houses as day roosts in macadamia orchards, South Africa

PeerJ. 2019 May 22;7:e6954. doi: 10.7717/peerj.6954. eCollection 2019.

Abstract

The loss of roost sites is one of the major drivers of the worldwide decline in bat populations and roost site preferences, either natural or artificially provided, are not well known for African bat species specifically. In this study we focus on the preference for different artificial roost sites by insectivorous bats in macadamia orchards in northern South Africa. From June 2016 to July 2017 we monitored 31 bat houses, mounted on poles in six macadamia orchards, for presence of bats or other occupants. Twenty-one multi-chambered bat houses of three different designs were erected in sets of three. Additionally, five Rocket boxes, four bat houses in sets of two (painted black and white) and one colony bat house were erected. Bats were counted and visually identified to family or species level. From December 2016 to the end of March 2017 iButtons were installed to record and analyze temperature variation within one set of three bat houses. We related the occupancy of bat houses to the different types of houses and the environmental variables: distance to water, altitude and height of the bat houses above the ground. Overall bat house occupancy was significantly higher in the central bat house, in the set of three, and the black bat house, in the set of two. Mean temperatures differed between houses in the set of three with the central bat house having a significantly higher mean temperature than the houses flanking it. Our study might confirm previous assumptions that the microclimate of bat houses appears to be an important factor influencing occupancy. In conclusion, from the different bat houses tested in this study the designs we assume the warmest and best insulated attracted the most bats. Further research is needed on the preferred microclimate of different bat species, co-habitation within bat houses and the potential importance of altitude and distance to water. Our study provided little variation in both altitude and the distance to water.

Keywords: Africa; Artificial roost; Bat boxes; Chiropteran; Roost site preference.

Grant support

This work was supported by the Subtropical Fruit Association of South Africa (Subtrop) by providing the initial funding for the bat houses, by the Europe & South Africa Partnership for Human Development –EUROSA+; the German Academic Exchange Service- DAAD [grant numbers 57371376 and 57314657]; German Federal Government through the Limpopo Living Landscapes project of the SPACES (Science Partnerships for the Assessment of Complex Earth System Processes); the University of Venda and National Research Foundation (NRF) and Department of Science and Technology (DST), through the SARChI Research Chair on Biodiversity Value & Change in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.