Applying Network Analysis to the Conservation of Habitat Trees in Urban Environments: a Case Study from Brisbane, Australia
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In Australia more than 300 vertebrates, including 43 insectivorous bat species, depend on hollows in habitat trees for shelter, with many species using a network of multiple trees as roosts. We used roost-switching data on white-striped freetail bats (Tadarida australis; Microchiroptera: Molossidae) to construct a network representation of day roosts in suburban Brisbane, Australia. Bats were caught from a communal roost tree with a roosting group of several hundred individuals and released with transmitters. Each roost used by the bats represented a node in the network, and the movements of bats between roosts formed the links between nodes. Despite differences in gender and reproductive stages, the bats exhibited the same behavior throughout three radiotelemetry periods and over 500 bat days of radio tracking: each roosted in separate roosts, switched roosts very infrequently, and associated with other bats only at the communal roost. This network resembled a scale-free network in which the distribution of the number of links from each roost followed a power law. Despite being spread over a large geographic area (>200 km2), each roost was connected to others by less than three links. One roost (the hub or communal roost) defined the architecture of the network because it had the most links. That the network showed scale-free properties has profound implications for the management of the habitat trees of this roosting group. Scale-free networks provide high tolerance against stochastic events such as random roost removals but are susceptible to the selective removal of hub nodes. Network analysis is a useful tool for understanding the structural organization of habitat tree usage and allows the informed judgment of the relative importance of individual trees and hence the derivation of appropriate management decisions. Conservation planners and managers should emphasize the differential importance of habitat trees and think of them as being analogous to vital service centers in human societies.
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