Context. Ecotones are recognised globally as areas of high biodiversity, yet relatively little is known about how fauna use different types of ecotone. Tropical rainforest–grassland ecotones are shaped through particular fire regimes, creating both gradual and abrupt ecotones. Insectivorous bats contribute considerably to mammalian diversity, and their capacity for flight allows them to use ecotones in a three-dimensional way, making them an informative faunal group for evaluating ecotone use.
Aims. To critically evaluate how insectivorous bats use gradual and abrupt ecotones between rainforest and grassland habitats.
Methods. Bat detectors were placed every 50 m, along 200-m transects, through five gradual and five abrupt rainforest–grassland ecotones. The activity of all insectivorous bats, as well as open, edge–open and closed foraging guilds (defined by echolocation call type), was compared among grassland and rainforest habitats, gradual and abrupt ecotones and positions across the ecotones.
Key results. Mean total bat activity, mean open and edge–open foraging guild activity were significantly higher in grassland positions, followed by the edge, and were lowest in the rainforest. Closed foraging guild bats showed no preference for either habitats, but had significantly higher activity in gradual compared with abrupt ecotones. Mean activity of edge–open foraging guild bats was affected strongly by the interaction between ecotone type and position along the ecotone. Gradual ecotones had a more even proportion of all three bat foraging guilds along the ecotone compared with abrupt ecotones. Most of these findings were likely driven by the structural complexity of gradual ecotones that fulfilled microhabitat requirements for all three foraging guilds, but may also have been influenced by insect prey abundance.
Conclusions. The present study demonstrated the importance of grassland patches in a tropical, rainforest landscape, and of gradual rainforest–grassland ecotones for insectivorous bats. Gradual ecotones promote complex habitat mosaics to allow closed foraging guild species to take advantage of food resources provided by grasslands, and provide all bats proximity to potential roosting and foraging sites.
Implications. The data clearly suggest that a suitable fire regime should be used to maintain current grassland patches within a rainforest landscape, and to promote gradual ecotones for use by insectivorous bats.