Forest structure affects trophic linkages: How silvicultural disturbance impacts bats and their insect prey

Luke E. Dodd, Michael J. Lacki, Eric R. Britzke, David A. Buehler, Patrick D. Keyser, Jeffrey L. Larkin, Amanda D. Rodewald, T. Bently Wigley, Petra B. Wood, Lynne K. Rieske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Vertebrate insectivores such as bats are a pervasive top-down force on prey populations in forest ecosystems. Conservation focusing on forest-dwelling bats requires understanding of community-level interactions between these predators and their insect prey. Our study assessed bat activity and insect occurrence (abundance and diversity) across a gradient of forest disturbance and structure (silvicultural treatments) in the Central Appalachian region of North America. We conducted acoustic surveys of bat echolocation concurrent with insect surveys using blacklight and malaise traps over 2. years. Predator activity, prey occurrence and prey biomass varied seasonally and across the region. The number of bat echolocation pulses was positively related with forest disturbance, whereas prey demonstrated varied trends. Lepidopteran abundance was negatively related with disturbance, while dipteran abundance and diversity was positively related with disturbance. Coleoptera were unaffected. Neither bat nor insect response variables differed between plot interiors and edges. Correlations between bat activity and vegetative structure reflected differences in foraging behavior among ensembles. Activity of myotine bats was correlated with variables describing sub-canopy vegetation, whereas activity of lasiurine bats was more closely correlated with canopy-level vegetation. Lepidopteran abundance was correlated with variables describing canopy and sub-canopy vegetation, whereas coleopteran and dipteran occurrence were more closely correlated with canopy-level vegetative structure. Our study demonstrates regional variation in bat activity and prey occurrence across a forested disturbance gradient. Land management and conservation efforts should consider the importance of vegetation structure and plant species richness to sustain forest-dwelling bats and their insect prey.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-270
Number of pages9
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank J. Adams, M. Antonik, A. Barlows, T. Beachy, T. Boves, E. Carlisle, D. Cox, T. Culbertson, D. Chalkley, A. Evans, G. George, S. Gravitt, P. Hartman, J. Mizel, F. Newell, J. Rasmussen, J. Sheehan, R. Smith, M. Ware, and J. Wong for technical assistance. This research was made possible through McIntire-Stennis funding and Grant monies from the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc. , the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources , Plum Creek Timber Company , MeadWestvaco Corporation , and the US Fish and Wildlife Service . Additional graduate monies were awarded to L.E.D. by Bat Conservation International , the University of Kentucky , and Sigma Xi . The authors declare they have no conflict of interest. We thank the USDA Forest Service, Meadwestvaco Corporation, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Forest Land Group, and Wagner Forest Management for providing study areas and implementing treatments. We thank Keith Summerville and an anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. This study was conducted in accordance with the laws of the United States of America. This is paper 11-08-017 of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the director.


  • Arthropod diversity
  • Foraging ecology
  • Logging
  • Predator-prey interactions
  • Trophic interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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