The Ecology and Conservation of the White-Striped Freetail Bat (Tadarida australis) in Urban Environments
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Of all anthropogenic pressures, urbanisation is one of the most damaging, and is expanding in its influence throughout the world. In Australia, 90% of the human population live in urban centres along the eastern seaboard. Before European settlement in the early 1800s, much of the Australia's East coast was dominated by forests. Many of the forest dependent fauna have had to adapt to forest fragmentation and habitat loss resulting from clearing for urbanisation. However, relatively few studies have investigated the impact of urbanisation on biodiversity. This is especially true for the remaining fauna in large metropolitan areas, such as Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The physical and conceptual context of this thesis is the increasing impact of urbanisation and the potentially threatening factors to forest dependent fauna. Bats were selected because they comprise a third of Australia's mammal species, and therefore form a major component of Australia's biodiversity. Very little is known about the ecology and conservation biology of hollow-dependent bats in general, but particularly in urban environments. The study was conducted in Brisbane, south-east Queensland, one of Australia's most biodiverse regions. More than a third of Australia's bat species occur in this region. A large insectivorous bat, the white-striped freetail bat (Tadarida australis), was selected to study two key resources in this urban area - hollow availability and foraging habitat. This thesis also examined if artificial roost habitat could provide temporary roosts for white-striped freetail bats and other insectivorous bats and assessed whether these bat boxes can be used as a conservation tool in urban environments where natural hollow-availability is limited. The white-striped freetail bat is an obligate hollow-dweller and roosted largely in hollows of old or dead eucalypts throughout Brisbane's urban matrix. These roost trees harboured significantly more additional hollow-dependent species compared to control trees of similar age, height, and tree diameter. Roost cavities inside trees often exceeded 30 cm in diameter. Furthermore, maternity colonies used cavities of hollow trunks, which often extended into major branches, to roost in big numbers. Therefore artificial alternatives, such as small bat boxes, may provide temporary shelter for small roosting groups, but are unlikely to be suitable substitutes for habitat loss. Although five bat species used bat boxes during this study, the white-striped freetail bat was not attracted into bat boxes. Roost-switching behaviour was then used to quantify associations between individual white-striped freetail bats of a roosting group. Despite differences in gender and reproductive seasons, the bats exhibited the same behaviour throughout three radio-telemetry periods and over 500 bat-days of radio-tracking: each roosted in separate roosts, switched roosts very infrequently, and associated with other tagged bats only at a communal roost. Furthermore, the communal roost exhibited a hub of socialising between members of the roosting group especially at night, with vocalisation and swarming behaviour not found at any of the other roosts. Despite being spread over a large geographic area (up to 200 km2), each roost was connected to others by less than three links. One roost (the communal roost) defined the architecture of the network because it had the most links. That the network showed scale-free properties has profound implications for the management of the habitat trees of this roosting group. Scale-free networks provide high tolerance against stochastic events such as random roost removals, but are susceptible to the selective removal of hub nodes, such as the communal roost. The white-striped freetail bat flew at high speed and covered large distances in search for food. It foraged over all land-cover types found in Brisbane. However, its observed foraging behaviour was non-random with respect to both spatial location and the nature of the ground-level habitat. The main feeding areas were within three kilometers of the communal roost, predominantly over the Brisbane River flood plains. As the only mammal capable of flight, bats can forage above fragmented habitats. However, as this study showed, hollow-dependent insectivorous bats, including free-tailed bats, are specialised in their roosting requirements. The ongoing protection of hollow-bearing trees, and the ongoing recruitment of future hollow-bearing trees, is essential for the long-term conservation of these animals in highly fragmented landscapes. Furthermore, loss of foraging habitat is still poorly understood, and should be considered in the ongoing conservation of bats in urban environments.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Australian School of Environmental Studies
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