Britain’s bat population was decimated by shipbuilding, reveals new research.
The study shows that bat numbers declined as millions of trees were felled to build ships as the British Empire grew.
Researchers also found that Britain’s Western barbastelle bat populations have dropped by 99 percent over several hundred years.
To get their results the team, from the University of Exeter, studied bat DNA to discover a signature of the past.
Dr. Katherine Boughey said: “This technique is a game changer for bat conservation.
“Until now, we have only been able to look at recent changes in populations, though anecdotal evidence suggests UK bat populations are at historic lows.
“Now we have evidence for the historic decline of barbastelle, and it has made an immediate impact.
“But we urgently need similar evidence for other bat species – and this study provides a way get it.”
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, also looked at modern landscapes to see what helps and harms bats.
They discovered more genetic diversity among bats in areas rich in broadleaf woodland and diverse habitats.
They also saw that artificial light reduced connectivity between populations, probably because bats avoid areas with bright lighting, while rivers and woodlands increase connectivity.
Dr. Orly Razgour said: “These bats usually roost in mature oak and beech trees, and move around every few nights – so they benefit from areas with substantial woodland cover.
“Our findings reveal that both the northern and southern British barbastelle populations have declined over several centuries, beginning about 500 years ago.
“This coincides with a period of widespread tree-felling to supply wood for shipbuilding.
“It is likely that the decline we found was triggered by this loss of woodland – which has continued since that period.”
The species’ habit of moving frequently makes population surveys difficult, so this study provides a valuable update on their status.
Dr. Razgour continued: “Our findings are used to inform the Natural England conservation status definition for the barbastelle, in turn influencing conservation decisions.
“While increasing coverage of mature trees is difficult, our findings highlight the need to protect existing woodlands and manage woodlands to increase roost availability for tree-roosting bats.
“There is an urgent need to carry out similar studies for many other species so we can better understand the state of UK biodiversity and causes of decline.”
The post “Research reveals shipbuilding decimated Britain’s bat population” appeared first on Zenger.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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