The effect of wastewater works on foraging behaviour and metal content of Neoromicia nana (Family : Vespertilionidae)
Anthropogenic disturbance from urbanization has introduced a range of contaminants into freshwater ecosystems. Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) in particular, deposit effluent with high metal concentrations directly into rivers. These pollutants may affect river biota directly or through modifications to habitat and prey. Therefore, the impact of metal pollution through a food chain should be evident in high trophic level predators such as Neoromicia nana. N. nana is a small, insect-eating bat that occurs in forest and riparian habitats in Africa. Most importantly, it is an urban exploiter, i.e. a species that takes advantage of anthropogenic food and habitat resources. I investigated the foraging behaviour and metal content of N. nana at wastewater-polluted sites (WWTW sludge tanks and sites downstream of wastewater discharge into the rivers) and unpolluted sites (sites upstream of wastewater discharge) at three urban rivers in Durban, South Africa, during winter and summer. To assess water quality, I determined cadmium, copper, chromium, iron, nickel, zinc and lead concentrations using Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES). To investigate the foraging behaviour of N. nana, I quantified relative N. nana abundance, and feeding activity from recorded echolocation calls. Using ICP-OES, I quantified metal concentrations in three tissues (liver, kidney and muscle). My results show that concentrations of most metals were generally lowest upstream, intermediate at downstream sites and highest at the tanks. The relative abundance and feeding activity of N. nana were significantly higher at wastewater-polluted sites than at upstream sites, despite there being significantly more insect orders upstream. However, pollution-tolerant Chironomidae (Diptera), were significantly more abundant at wastewater-polluted sites. Indeed, at wastewater-polluted sites, Diptera represented the highest percentage of insects in the diet of N. nana. Essential metals (copper, zinc and iron) were detected in all tissue samples of N. nana. In contrast, the toxic metals cadmium, chromium and nickel were present in tissue of bats only at wastewater-polluted sites (except one upstream occurrence of cadmium). This suggests that these metals may accumulate in tissue through the ingestion of pollutant-exposed prey. Thus, metal pollution from WWTWs affects not only water quality of rivers, but also the diversity of resident aquatic insects and ultimately the ecology of N. nana populations, which may pose serious long-term health risks for these top predators.