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Threatened Acacia Trees Crucial to Preserve Rare Bat Species in Israel

Feb 20, 2013 11:14 AM EST
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A new study signifies the importance of preserving the threatened acacia trees in order to protect the rare insectivorous bats in Israel.

Researchers from Bristol's School of Biological Sciences in the U.K. and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, have found that bat activity and species diversity are highest in areas where dense and healthy acacia trees are present, suggesting the importance of conserving acacia tree habitats in comparison with other natural and artificial habitats.

For their study, the research team used acoustic monitoring of bat calls and collected arthropod preys using light and pit traps. The number of arthropods did not differ the same way in different habitats examined by the researchers. This suggests that the greater bat diversity at acacia trees is not just a result of differences in prey numbers.

Healthy acacia trees maintained high prey numbers in the hottest and driest times of the year. When the research team examined some healthy acacia trees, they captured recordings of two very rare bat species - Nycteris thebaica and Barbastella leucomelas.

Artificial habitats that were investigated also had high levels of insect and bat activity, but diversity of bat species was reduced and biased against species typically found in deserts, said the researchers. They insisted on conserving the acacia trees, which are declining due to water stress and human activity, in order to preserve rare and endangered species of bats.

"While man-made environments could represent a suitable alternative foraging environment for some species of bat, many of the more threatened species were only recorded at the declining acacia habitat.  This highlights the importance of increasing conservation efforts of dense acacia habitats to protect this vital ecosystem for an entire diverse community of protected bats," Talya Hackett, lead author of the paper, said in a statement.

The findings of the study are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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