The relative influence of local and landscape processes on the structure of insectivorous bat ensembles in urban nature reserves.
Urbanization is arguably the most damaging and rapidly expanding threat to biodiversity. The process of urbanization results in the fragmentation of natural habitat into patches that are disjunct and isolated from one another. Biogeography theory predicts that landscape processes, including fragment size and isolation, should predominate in species assembly. However, these predictions have not been tested on African bats in urban landscapes. Bats are important models for urban studies because they comprise more than a fifth of all mammals, and play vital roles as primary, secondary and tertiary consumers that support human-dominated ecosystems. Furthermore, there is evidence that local, biotic processes specifically competition and prey defences are important determinants of species composition patterns. In this study, I investigated the relative influence of local and landscape processes on the species composition patterns of insectivorous bat ensembles in Durban. Using active capture methods and passive monitoring, I sampled the insectivorous bat ensembles of eight nature reserves in Durban between 2008 and 2010. I used multivariate analyses to test predictions from biogeographic and climate hypotheses, and I used null model analyses to test predictions from competition and nestedness hypotheses to determine whether the bat richness patterns were significantly different from patterns expected by chance. Species richness estimators indicated that species inventories for ensembles were fairly complete (i.e. estimated species richness was not much larger than observed species richness). Multiple regression analyses showed that there was a significant parabolic relationship between species evenness and daily maximum temperature, and there was a significant negative relationship between relative activity and reserve shape. However, I found no evidence that competition influenced species composition patterns. Conversely, I found support for the nestedness hypothesis: species in species-poor ensembles were subsets of species in species-rich ensembles. Spearman rank correlation indicated that the degree of nestedness was significantly correlated with maximum temperature. My results suggest that in urban landscapes, abiotic processes operating at the landscape scale may be more important determinants of composition patterns of insectivorous bat species than biotic factors operating at a local scale. Furthermore, bat species that forage in cluttered habitats may not be able to persist in urban landscapes.