Given worldwide rapid human population growth resulting in degradation or loss of habitats, it is important to understand how anthropogenic factors affect species presence and activity, and consequently, how well species tolerate or adapt to anthropogenically altered environments. This study, conducted in Panama, focuses on aerial insectivorous bats, a highly mobile and ecologically important, but largely understudied group. Acoustic monitoring was used to investigate habitat use in a tropical forest–town interface and microhabitat use around streetlights differing in wavelength (type of light) and accessibility (distance to vegetation). Plasticity in microhabitat use also was examined in relation to season and moonlight. We recorded a total of 25 aerial insectivorous bat species in the study area and found a subset of 20 species in town of which 18 frequently foraged around streetlights. Bat activity (passes/min) was lowest at the forest site, highest at streetlights, and intermediate in the dark areas of town. General bat activity at streetlights was concentrated at bluish-white lights compared to yellow-white and orange lights. However, bats revealed species-specific microhabitats with regard to light type, distance to vegetation, and relative light intensity. Season and moon phase affected microhabitat use around streetlights leading to microhabitat plasticity of individual species. Thus, in the forest–town interface most, but not all, aerial insectivorous bats were present in town and regularly foraged around streetlights, suggesting a species-specific tolerance for habitat alteration. Bats foraging at streetlights used microhabitats, and some species even changed microhabitats, according to season or moon phase. This indicates species-specific requirements for microhabitats and the importance of preserving habitat heterogeneity.
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Vol. 91 • No. 1