Roads and bats: A meta-analysis and review of the evidence on vehicle collisions and barrier effects
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Roads are a potential threat to bat conservation. In addition to the direct risk of collision of bats with vehicles, roads could pose a threat to bat populations as a result of habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, and could act as barriers to movements of bats between habitats. We performed a systematic review of the literature and conducted meta-analyses to assess the threat posed by roads to bats as a result of 1) collisions between bats and vehicles and 2) roads acting as barriers to movements of bats. Based on collated records of 1207 bat road casualties in Europe, we found that low-flying species are more prone to collisions than high-flying species, and that juveniles are more vulnerable to collisions than adults. In addition, meta-analysis identified a significant bias towards male casualties. Casualties included rare species such as Barbastella barbastellus and geographically restricted species such as Rhinolophus species. The bias towards male casualties could be indicative of greater natal philopatry or lower dispersal among females, or of sexual segregation in habitats of varying quality, i.e. females may occupy better quality habitats than males, and road density may be lower in better quality habitats. Whether or not roads act as barriers to the movement of bats depends on a complex interplay of habitat and species-specific behaviour. For example, the presence of favourable habitat for bats - notably woodland - was found in this review to be linked with significantly reduced barrier effects but a heightened risk of collision. Our data suggest that roads do pose a threat to bats. Future research should assess the contribution of traffic noise and street lighting to the barrier effect of roads. Where new road schemes are monitored by ecological practitioners, it is vital that consistent protocols are employed to ensure that bat activity can be compared before and after the road is built. Evidence from such research should be used to minimize the risks for bats of any roads built in the future, and to design safe crossing points for bats.
Amy G. Fensome was supported by a NERC PhD studentship (NE/K500902/1).
Mammal Review, 2016, Volume 46, Issue 4