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Crowding after sudden habitat loss affects demography and social structure in a bat population

Citation

Amorim, Francisco et al. (2022), Crowding after sudden habitat loss affects demography and social structure in a bat population, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.kh1893270

Abstract

1. The sudden loss of habitats due to natural or anthropogenic disturbances causes displacement of mobile animals from affected areas to refuge habitats, where large but often transitory concentrations of individuals may occur. While these local density increases have been previously described, the hypothesis that crowding disrupts demographic processes remains largely untested.

2. Here we used the sudden flooding of a river valley by a hydroelectric reservoir as a quasi-experiment to investigate the consequences of crowding on demography, fecundity, and social structure in the European free-tailed bat (Tadarida teniotis).

3. We monitored bat populations at roosts near and far from the flooded area, before (2013-2014), during (2015) and after (2016) habitat flooding. We assessed population demographic parameters using Capture-Mark-Recapture (CMR) models (3821 PIT-tagged individuals), and used genetic relatedness among individuals (1407 individuals genotyped for 14 microsatellite markers) to infer changes in social structure.

4. Habitat loss through flooding was associated with significant but transitory increases in the number of bats using nearby roosts. This may be related to the higher probability of individuals arriving at those roosts during flooding, together with increases in individual local residency through time, particularly among males. Individual apparent survival was highest during flooding and lowest in the following year, while the probability of leaving a roost safe from flooding was higher near the impact area than farther away. Crowding did not negatively affect fecundity, but the arrival of new individuals led to changes in social structure as revealed by lower genetic relatedness between individuals after disturbance at roosts near the flooding area, but not in those farther afield.

5. Our study documents a clear example of crowding effects, suggesting that bats losing roosts due to a hydroelectric reservoir moved to alternative roosts, where local increases in population size and the arrival of new individuals reduced genetic relatedness and apparent survival, but not fecundity. These results support the hypothesis that crowding after habitat loss can disrupt population processes, even though effects may be subtle and short-lived. Also, they point out the need to duly consider crowding effects when assessing and mitigating anthropogenic impacts on animal populations.