Foraging by bats in cleared, thinned and unharvested boreal forest.
Modern silvicultural methods employ various styles of selective harvesting in addition to traditional clear-cutting. This can create a mosaic of patches with different tree densities that may influence habitat use by foraging bats. Use of forest patches may also vary among bat species due to variation in their manoeuvrability. Apart from studies investigating use of clear-cuts, few have tested for differences in use of forest patches by bats, or for differences among bat species. We investigated the influence of various harvesting regimes, which created forest patches of different tree densities, on habitat selection by foraging bats in the boreal mixed-wood forest of Alberta, Canada. We also tested for variation in habitat selection among species related to differences in body size and wing morphology. Over two summers we assessed habitat use by bats using ultrasonic detectors to count the echolocation passes of foraging bats. We measured activity in three forest types and four tree densities, ranging from intact (unharvested) forests to clear-cuts. Smaller, more manoeuvrable, species (Myotis spp.) were less affected by tree density than the larger, less manoeuvrable, Lasionycteris noctivagans. Two Myotis spp. differed in their habitat use. Myotis lucifugus, an aerial insectivore, preferred to forage along the edge of clear-cuts, while M. septentrionalis, a species that gleans prey from surfaces, did not forage in clear-cuts but preferred intact forest. The largest species in our study, L. noctivagans, preferred clear-cuts and avoided intact patches. There were therefore differences in habitat selection by foraging bats among the species in our study area, and these were correlated with size and wing morphology. Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that, in the short term, thinning has minimal effect on habitat use by bats. They also indicate that silvicultural methods have different immediate effects on different species of bats that may be obscured if the community is studied as a single entity. Management for forest-dwelling bats must take such species-specific effects into consideration. Harvesting that creates a mosaic of patches with different tree densities is likely to satisfy the requirements of more species than a system with less diverse harvesting styles.