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Dramatic decline of northern bat in Sweden

Jens Rydell and his colleagues have found that the northern bat has declined dramatically in Sweden since 1988.
A bat is hanging upside down. Photo.
The species nortghern bat Eptesicus nilssonii is declining. Photo: Jens Rydell.

Here is the abstract from the study. You can read the whole article in Royal Society Open Science.

We monitored northern bat Eptesicus nilssonii (Keyserling & Blasius, 1839) acoustically along a 27 km road transect at weekly intervals in 1988, 1989 and 1990, and again in 2016 and 2017. The methodology of data collection and the transect were the same throughout, except that the insect-attracting mercury-vapour street-lights along parts of the road were replaced by sodium lights between the two survey periods. Counts along sections of the transect with and without street-lights were analysed separately.

The frequency of bat encounters in unlit sections showed an average decline of 3.0% per year, corresponding to a reduction of 59% between 1988 and 2017. Sections with street-lights showed an 85% decline over the same period (6.3% per year). The decline represents a real reduction in the abundance of bats rather than an artefact of changed distribution of bats away from roads.

Our study conforms with another long-term survey of the same species on the Baltic island of Gotland. Our results agree with predictions based on climate change models. They also indicate that the decline was caused directly by the disuse of the insect-attracting mercury-vapour street-lights, which may have resulted in lower availability of preferred prey (moths). In the 1980s, E. nilssonii was considered the most common bat in Sweden, but the subsequent decline would rather qualify it for vulnerable or endangered status in the national Red List of Threatened Species.

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Centre for Animal Movement Research
Evolutionary Ecology, Department of Biology
Ecology building S-223 62 Lund Sweden