May 29, 2013, 10:10 p.m.
The need to develop effective management strategies for insectivorous bat populations requires an understanding of factors influencing habitat use. Availability of pest prey, such as mosquitoes is likely to be one such factor. To assess whether this is the case, we radio-tracked Vespadelus vulturnus Thomas (little forest bat), a predator of Aedes vigilax Skuse (saltmarsh mosquito), in saltmarsh and adjacent coastal swamp forest during periods of high and low Ae. vigilax abundance. When mosquito abundance in structurally-open saltmarsh was similar to the more cluttered coastal swamp forest, use of saltmarsh by V. vulturnus was disproportionately greater than its availability, with saltmarsh selected preferentially for foraging. However, at times of low Ae. vigilax abundance in saltmarsh, use of saltmarsh by V. vulturnuswas reduced and all habitats were used in proportion to availability in the study area. This is the first radio-tracking study to demonstrate a shift in foraging range by an insectivorous bat species correlated with fluctuations in the distribution and abundance of a particular prey resource. The shift in foraging range by V. vulturnus, corresponding with a spatio-temporal variation in abundance of Ae. vigilax highlights the importance of mosquitoes as a dietary item. Broadscale pest control of Ae. vigilax may have ecological implications for the diet and habitat use of V. vulturnus. An adaptive management approach is proposed, whereby careful monitoring of insectivorous bat populations is recommended before and after any application of broadscale mosquito control measures. We also suggest a precautionary approach is taken such that broadscale control of mosquitoes avoids the lactation period of bats, a time when their energetic demands are greatest and when there is reduced risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases transmitted by Ae. vigilax.