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Does woodland use by bats depend on landscape context? Implications for woodland creation schemes


Project Description

Many countries are setting ambitious targets for habitat restoration and woodland expansion (e.g. Bonn Challenge), such as England’s commitment to plant 11 million trees by 2022 and to restore 75% of protected sites to favourable condition (Defra 2018). To ensure these efforts help to reduce biodiversity decline and restore ecosystem functioning in the face of increasing anthropogenic pressures such as climate change, they need to be strategic. There is a vital need for more information to guide the spatial targeting of actions on the ground.

It has been suggested that the effectiveness of conservation management (habitat restoration and/or creation) depends on the structural complexity of the landscapes where actions are implemented. However, there is still considerable debate about whether the creation of new habitat would be more effective in heterogeneous areas (e.g. with a high proportion of non-crop habitats) that still support relatively high levels of biodiversity or in landscapes dominated by farmed land (e.g. Fahrig et al. 2011; Tscharntke et al. 2012). Additionally, there is an ongoing debate within the scientific and conservation communities on the relative merit of, and balance between, site- and landscape-level actions to conserve biodiversity within fragmented landscapes (e.g. Watts et al. 2016).

Highly mobile species, such as many bats, display particularly strong associations with gradients of landscape structural complexity at large spatial scales. Bats often avoid intensively managed agricultural land; due to their habitat preferences and high dispersal abilities, it has been proposed that conservation efforts for bats should focus on increasing the amount and connectivity of woodland in the landscape (e.g. Fuentes-Montemayor et al. 2011). However, there is poor understanding of how landscape complexity influences the use of woodland patches by bats in agricultural areas. Some woodland bats are also particularly hard to survey because of similarities of their echolocation calls with other species and/or low detectability by ultrasound detectors.

The overall aim of this studentship is to identify landscapes where woodland creation and restoration activities are likely to provide the greatest benefits for bats. Specific objectives and questions to address are:
1. Validate and update existing habitat suitability models with new data to improve predictive information of bat species distributions across Britain.
2. Determine the influence of landscape complexity on overall bat activity levels. E.g. are the greatest benefits for bats realised by woodland creation in simple or complex landscapes?
3. Test associations between land-use change and roosting woodland bat population trends.

This PhD will use a range of approaches and datasets, across temporal and spatial scales, to address fundamental questions on the prioritisation of conservation efforts. It will improve our understanding of the ecological and human factors driving distributions of UK woodland bats at local to national scales. Results from this work would be used to produce guidance for landowners, policy makers and practitioners on targeting woodland creation.

Methods
For a more detailed outline of the project please follow this link on the IAPETUS website: https://www.iapetus2.ac.uk/studentships/does-woodland-use-by-bats-depend-on-landscape-context-implications-for-woodland-creation-schemes/

The PhD will be based at Stirling and the student will visit Newcastle for meetings, seminars and specific training. It is anticipated that the student will spend approximately one month per year working with CASE partners based at Forest Research (Dr Chloe Bellamy) and Bat Conservation Trust ( Dr Carol Williams).

Objectives 1 & 3 will be addressed using existing datasets on woodland bats with additional survey work. Hierarchical, multi-scale models predicting national distributions of woodland bat species have been developed by FR and BCT using citizen science data as part of the ‘Putting UK woodland bats on the map’ project. The UK has a number of long-standing bat box schemes which provide data on several species within woodlands over 10-50 years. We will use information from these schemes to explore whether, and to what extent, changes in habitat and land-use have influenced roosting use in these woodlands by bats.

For objective 2 fieldwork will be conducted in an array of sites within landscapes of varying degrees of structural complexity. The student will use digital datasets to quantify the compositional complexity, and land-use intensity of the study landscapes. A network of ultrasonic detectors will be used to assess bat activity levels within woodland patches and in the surrounding non-woodland matrix.

Funding Notes

This PhD is part of the IAPETUS NERC Doctoral Training Programme. Instructions on how to make a formal application and information on eligibility requirements can be found here: View Website. Note that you must make an application both to the IAPETUS2 website and to Stirling University (View Website) for your application to be valid.

Full IAPETUS studentships are open to UK nationals and EU candidates who will have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years at the time of the PhD commencing.

Candidates are also strongly encouraged to send their CV and covering letter to Kirsty Park ().

References

DEFRA. (2018). A Green Future: Our 25 Year plan to improve the environment. London: DEFRA.

Fahrig et al. (2011) Functional landscape heterogeneity and animal biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. Ecology Letters 14: 101-112.

Fuentes-Montemayor et al. (2011) Pipistrelle bats and their prey do not benefit from four widely applied agri-environment management prescriptions. Biological Conservation 144: 2233-2246.

Tscharntke et al. (2012) Landscape moderation of biodiversity patterns and processes – Eight hypotheses. Biological Reviews 87: 661-685.

Watts K et al. (2016) Using historical woodland creation to construct a long-term, large-scale natural experiment: the WrEN project. Ecology & Evolution 6: 3012-3025.

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