Herrera, J.M., Costa, P., Medinas, D., Marques, J.T. & Mira, A. (2015) Community composition and activity of insectivorous bats in Mediterranean olive farmsAnimal Conservation, 18(6), 557-566. DOI:10.1111/acv.12209 (IF2015 2,788; Q1 Biodiversity Conservation)
Olive (Olea europaea L.) farming is one of the most widespread agricultural practice throughout the Mediterranean basin. Current trends even predict an increase in land area devoted to olive farms as well as the intensification of farming practices. However, knowledge of the effects of olive farming on animal species still remains elusive and conservation and management guidelines for the relevant stakeholders are therefore urgently needed. Here, we investigate community composition and activity patterns of insectivorous bats in Mediterranean olive monocultures in Southern Portugal. Bats surveys were carried out in three types of olive farms representing increasing levels of management intensity: (1) traditional olive farms, managed with few or no chemical inputs or manual labor; (2) semi-intensive olive farms, which share certain characteristics with traditional plantations, but are more intensively managed; (3) intensive olive farms, which are managed with high and frequent chemical inputs, and highly mechanized systems. We found differences in species richness and activity levels between farming practices. Both the number of species and foraging activity declined with increasing management intensity. However, olive groves as a whole showed a lower number of species compared with the regional species pool and extremely low activity levels, suggesting that large and homogeneous olive monocultures may serve more as commuting areas than true foraging habitats for bats. To our knowledge, this is the first study explicitly demonstrating the pervasive impact of olive farming on the community composition and activity levels of insectivorous bats. In the face of an even-increasing proportion of land surface devoted to olive farming in Mediterranean landscapes, our findings are therefore of great concern. We suggest that increasing habitat heterogeneity would contribute to preserve the community composition and ecological functionality of insectivorous bats in extensive olive monocultures.