Changes of bat species composition over altitudinal gradients on northern and southern aspects of the Soutpansberg mountain range, South Africa
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In order to gain insight into the pattern of bat species composition over altitude and the environmental variables driving the observed pattern, we compared data from moist southern and drier northern aspects of the Soutpansberg range in northern South Africa. Acoustical monitoring and additional capturing of bats was used for analysis of species distribution patterns and comparisons of community composition. Bat activity generally followed a linear decline with increasing altitude, possibly related to reproductive females preferring lower altitudes. Species richness followed a hump-shaped distribution on the northern aspect and across the transect, whereas a pattern of a linear decline was observed on the southern aspect. Our study strongly supports a previously published climate model for insectivorous bats which assumes that water availability linked with temperature determines the shape of altitudinal distribution in bat species. Step-wise selection from multiple regression models retained habitat type and/or measures of habitat structure in all final models, supporting several other studies in that vegetation correlated to altitude is a primary determinant of bat species distribution over altitude. This study also supports that the Soutpansberg is a biodiversity hotspot for bats and emphasises that conservation efforts should by no means ignore the lower altitudes.
- RESEARCH: Taylor, P