New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2004) 28(1): 1- 18

Roost use by long-tailed bats in South Canterbury: examining predictions of roost-site selection in a highly fragmented landscape

Research Article
Jane A. Sedgeley 1,2
Colin F. J. O'Donnell 1
  1. Southern Regional Science Centre, Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 13 049, Christchurch, New Zealand
  2. University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

We studied the roosting ecology of the long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus) during the springautumn months from 1998–2002 at Hanging Rock in the highly fragmented landscape of South Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand. We compared the structural characteristics and microclimates of roost sites used by communally and solitary roosting bats with those of randomly available sites, and roosts of C. tuberculatus occupying unmodified Nothofagus forest in the Eglinton Valley, Fiordland. Roosting group sizes and roost residency times were also compared. We followed forty radio-tagged bats to 94 roosts (20% in limestone crevices, 80% in trees) at Hanging Rock. Roosts were occupied for an average of 1 day and 86% were only used once during the study period. Colony size averaged 9.8 ± 1.1 bats (range 2–38) and colonies were dominated by breeding females and young. Indigenous forest, shrubland remnants and riparian zones were preferred roosting habitats. Communally roosting bats selected roosts in split trunks of some of the largest trees available. Selection of the largest available trees as roost sites is similar to behaviour of bat species occupying unmodified forested habitats. Temperatures inside 12 maternity roosts measured during the lactation period were variable. Five roosts were well insulated from ambient conditions and internal temperatures were stable, whereas the temperatures inside seven roosts fluctuated in parallel with ambient temperature. Tree cavities used by bats at Hanging Rock were significantly nearer ground level, had larger entrance dimensions, were less well insulated, and were occupied by fewer bats than roosts in the Eglinton Valley. These characteristics appear to expose their occupants to unstable microclimates and to a higher risk of threats such as predation. We suggest that roosts at Hanging Rock are of a lower quality than those in the Eglinton Valley, and that roost quality may be one of the contributory factors in the differential reproductive fitness observed in the two bat populations. The value of introduced willows (especially Salix fragilis) as bat roosts should be acknowledged. We recommend six conservation measures to mitigate negative effects of deterioration of roosting habitat: protection and enhancement of the quality of existing roosts, replanting within roosting habitat, provision of high quality artificial roosts, predator control, and education of landowners and statutory bodies.