Bats respond to wildfires in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in varied but often positive ways, a study in Scientific Reports suggests. The findings could help to improve bat conservation and management strategies in fire-prone forest regions.
Wildfire is a key ecological process that influences biodiversity and habitat quality. In bats, fire influences foraging and roosting and may be an important driver of habitat quality, due to heterogeneity created by fire, often referred to as pyrodiversity. However, the effects of wildfire on bat occurrence and diversity within forest landscapes are understudied, creating challenges for bat conservation and management in fire-prone ecosystems.
To examine the effects of wildfire severity and pyrodiversity on the bat community in the Sierra Nevada forests, Zachary Steel and colleagues monitored bat populations between 2014 and 2017. The authors found that of the 17 bat species commonly found in the area, occupancy rates increased with fire severity in six species, including the big brown bat, the long-eared myotis and the Mexican free-tailed bat, but decreased only for small-footed bats. In areas with greater pyrodiversity occupancy rates increased in three species. The total number of different species detected (species richness) increased from eight in unburnt areas to eleven in areas with moderate to high burn severity.
The findings suggest the greatest benefit to bats occurs with moderately severe wildfire with diverse patches of burn severity. The authors suggest that bats may be somewhat resilient to increasing wildfire, a trend that is expected to continue with climate change.
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