Anthropogenic habitat modification often has a profound negative impact on the flora and fauna of an ecosystem. In parts of the Middle East, ephemeral rivers (wadis) are characterised by stands of acacia trees. Green, flourishing assemblages of these trees are in decline in several countries, most likely due to human-induced water stress and habitat changes. We examined the importance of healthy acacia stands for bats and their arthropod prey in comparison to other natural and artificial habitats available in the Arava desert of Israel. We assessed bat activity and species richness through acoustic monitoring for entire nights and concurrently collected arthropods using light and pit traps. Dense green stands of acacia trees were the most important natural desert habitat for insectivorous bats. Irrigated gardens and parks in villages and fields of date palms had high arthropod levels but only village sites rivalled acacia trees in bat activity level. We confirmed up to 13 bat species around a single patch of acacia trees; one of the richest sites in any natural desert habitat in Israel. Some bat species utilised artificial sites; others were found almost exclusively in natural habitats. Two rare species (Barbastella leucomelas and Nycteris the baica) were identified solely around acacia trees. We provide strong evidence that acacia trees are of unique importance to the community of insectivorous desert-dwelling bats, and that the health of the trees is crucial to their value as a foraging resource. Consequently, conservation efforts for acacia habitats, and in particular for the green more densely packed stands of trees, need to increase to protect this vital habitat for an entire community of protected bats.
|Publication status||Published - Feb 2013|