Effects of urbanization on bat habitat use in the Phoenix Metropolitan Region, Arizona, USA: a multi-scale landscape analysis
Context – Urbanization can have negative effects on bat habitat use through the loss and isolation of habitat even for volant bats. Yet, how bats respond to the changing landscape composition and configuration of urban environments remains poorly understood.
Objective – This study examines the relationship between bat habitat use and landscape pattern across multiple scales in the Phoenix metropolitan region. My research explores how landscape composition and configuration affects bat activity, foraging activity, and species richness (response variables), and the distinct habitats that they use.
Methods – I used a multi-scale landscape approach and acoustic monitoring data to create predictive models that identified the key predictor variables across multiple scales within the study area. I selected three scales with the intent of capturing the landscape, home range, and site scales, which may all be relevant for understanding bat habitat use.
Results – Overall, class-level metrics and configuration metrics best explained bat habitat use for bat species associated with this urban setting. The extent and extensiveness of water (corresponding to small water bodies and watercourses) were the most important predictor variables across all response variables. Bat activity was predicted to be high in native vegetation remnants, and low in native vegetation at the city periphery. Foraging activity was predicted to be high in fine-scale land cover heterogeneity. Species richness was predicted to be high in golf courses, and low in commercial areas. Bat habitat use was affected by urban landscape pattern mainly at the landscape and site scale.
Conclusions – My results suggested in hot arid urban landscapes water is a limiting factor for bats, even in urban landscapes where the availability of water may be greater than in outlying native desert habitat. Golf courses had the highest species richness, and included the detection of the uncommon pocketed free-tailed bat (Nyctinomops femorosaccus). Water cover types had the second highest species richness. Golf courses may serve as important stop-overs or refuges for rare or elusive bats. Urban waterways and golf courses are novel urban cover types that can serve as compliments to urban preserves, and other green spaces for bat conservation.