Relationships between agri-environment scheme habitat characteristics and insectivorous bats on arable farmland
Across Europe agri-environment schemes (AES) have been introduced which attempt to counteract biodiversity losses relating to agricultural intensification. However, the potential benefits of AES to non-target groups such as bats are unclear. In the study presented here, we assessed how the vegetative characteristics (e.g. dicot coverage and bare ground coverage) of four commonly employed AES habitat types influenced the occurrence and activity of bats. AES plots were monitored using static acoustic bat detectors and each plot was surveyed three times between April and September, with detectors set to record over three consecutive nights during each survey. Analysis of this data identified some preferences for specific AES habitat characteristics by bats, but preferences differed between species. Relationships between bats and AES habitat type were not investigated due to structural similarities between habitats which were identified through principal component analysis. Our study therefore identifies simple species-specific habitat management practices which could be implemented as part of current AES to increase the suitability of these habitats to bats. For example, habitat management targeted towards Pipistrellus pygmaeus and Barbastellus barbastellus could focus on providing floristically diverse foraging sites, which are attractive to their invertebrate prey, in close proximity to potential woodland roost sites, whilst Pipistrellus pipistrellus may benefit from AES with high dicot coverage if such habitats are located along tall field boundaries with trees, which provide shelter for their prey.