Ecological correlates of vulnerability to fragmentation in Neotropical bats.
In the face of widespread human-induced habitat fragmentation, identification of those ecological characteristics that render some species more vulnerable to fragmentation than others is vital for understanding, predicting and mitigating the effects of habitat alteration on biodiversity. We compare hypotheses on the causes of interspecific differences in fragmentation sensitivity using distribution and abundance data collected on 23 species of Neotropical bats. Bats were captured over a 2-year period on 11 land-bridge islands in Gatún Lake, Panama, and on the adjacent mainland. We derived a series of explanatory variables from our capture data and from the literature: (1) natural abundance in continuous forest, (2) body mass, (3) trophic level, (4) dietary specialization, (5) vertical stratification, (6) edge-sensitivity, (7) mobility, (8) wing morphology (aspect ratio and relative wing loading) and (9) ecologically scaled landscape indices (ESLIs). After phylogenetic correction, these variables were used separately and in combination to assess their association with two indices of fragmentation sensitivity, species prevalence (proportion of islands occupied) as well as an index of change in abundance. Model selection based on Akaike's information criterion identified edge-sensitivity as the best correlate of vulnerability to fragmentation. Natural abundance and mobility or traits linked to mobility (relative wing loading and ESLI) received limited support as predictors. Vulnerability of gleaning animalivorous bats is probably caused by a combination of these traits. Synthesis and applications. Our findings emphasize the importance of a local-scale approach in developing predictive models of species fragmentation sensitivity and indicate that risk assessments of Neotropical bats could be based on species tolerance to habitat edges and mobility-related traits. We suggest that, in order to be effective, management efforts should aim to minimize the amount of edge-habitat and reduce the degree of fragment-matrix contrast. Moreover, if high bat diversity is to be preserved in fragmented Neotropical landscapes, conservation measures regarding reserve design should assure spatial proximity to source populations in larger tracts of continuous forest and a low degree of remnant isolation.