Influence of Landscape Structure and Human Modifications on Insect Biomass and Bat Foraging Activity in an Urban Landscape

PLoS ONE 7(6), published 07 June 2012

Caragh G. Threlfall1, Bradley Law, and Peter B. Banks

“Urban landscapes are often located in biologically diverse, productive regions. As such, urbanization may have dramatic consequences for this diversity, largely due to changes in the structure and function of urban communities. We examined the influence of landscape productivity (indexed by geology), housing density and vegetation clearing on the spatial distribution of nocturnal insect biomass and the foraging activity of insectivorous bats in the urban landscape of Sydney, Australia.

Map of sampled landscapes in Sydney, NSW, Australia

Map of sampled landscapes in Sydney, NSW, Australia

“Nocturnal insect biomass (g) and bat foraging activity were sampled from 113 sites representing backyard, open space, bushland and riparian landscape elements, across urban, suburban and vegetated landscapes within 60 km of Sydney’s Central Business District. We found that insect biomass was at least an order of magnitude greater within suburban landscapes in bushland and backyard elements located on the most fertile shale influenced geologies (both p<0.001) compared to nutrient poor sandstone landscapes. Similarly, the feeding activity of bats was greatest in bushland, and riparian elements within suburbs on fertile geologies (p = 0.039). Regression tree analysis indicated that the same three variables explained the major proportion of the variation in insect biomass and bat foraging activity. These were ambient temperature (positive), housing density (negative) and the percent of fertile shale geologies (positive) in the landscape; however variation in insect biomass did not directly explain bat foraging activity. We suggest that prey may be unavailable to bats in highly urbanized areas if these areas are avoided by many species, suggesting that reduced feeding activity may reflect under-use of urban habitats by bats. Restoration activities to improve ecological function and maintain the activity of a diversity of bat species should focus on maintaining and restoring bushland and riparian habitat, particularly in areas with fertile geology as these were key bat foraging habitats.”