Habitat composition and connectivity predicts bat presence and activity at foraging sites in a large UK conurbation

James Hale, AJ Fairbrass, TJ Matthews, Jonathan Sadler, B Fenton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Urbanization is characterized by high levels of sealed land-cover, and small, geometrically complex, fragmented land-use patches. The extent and density of urbanized land-use is increasing, with implications for habitat quality, connectivity and city ecology. Little is known about densification thresholds for urban ecosystem function, and the response of mammals, nocturnal and cryptic taxa are poorly studied in this respect. Bats (Chiroptera) are sensitive to changing urban form at a species, guild and community level, so are ideal model organisms for analyses of this nature.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We surveyed bats around urban ponds in the West Midlands conurbation, United Kingdom (UK). Sites were stratified between five urban land classes, representing a gradient of built land-cover at the 1 km(2) scale. Models for bat presence and activity were developed using land-cover and land-use data from multiple radii around each pond. Structural connectivity of tree networks was used as an indicator of the functional connectivity between habitats. All species were sensitive to measures of urban density. Some were also sensitive to landscape composition and structural connectivity at different spatial scales. These results represent new findings for an urban area. The activity of Pipistrellus pipistrellus (Schreber 1774) exhibited a non-linear relationship with the area of built land-cover, being much reduced beyond the threshold of ∼60% built surface. The presence of tree networks appears to mitigate the negative effects of urbanization for this species.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our results suggest that increasing urban density negatively impacts the study species. This has implications for infill development policy, built density targets and the compact city debate. Bats were also sensitive to the composition and structure of the urban form at a range of spatial scales, with implications for land-use planning and management. Protecting and establishing tree networks may improve the resilience of some bat populations to urban densification.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere33300
Number of pages12
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2012


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