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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2013

Nonlinear Distribution Pattern of Hibernating Bats in Caves along an Elevational Gradient in Mountain (Carpathians, Southern Poland)

Piksa, Krzysztof; Nowak, Jakub; Zmihorski, Michal; Bogdanowicz, Wieslaw


Background: Thermal gradients along changes in elevation in mountainous environments are reflected by different biotas. Although there have been studies of elevation variation in bat assemblages in summer, winter changes in the same gradients remain unknown.Methodology/Principal Findings: The objective of this study was to document changes in the species composition of bats hibernating in caves along a temperate elevational gradient. We studied 70 caves between from 300 m to 1,930 m altitude along a slope of the Carpathian Mountains in southern Poland. We recorded changes in bats, including species richness, abundance, altitudinal distribution and dominance during consecutive winters between 2003 and 2009. Similarity of dominance of faunal structure was assessed by using the Bray-Curtis similarity index. We used the generalised additive model and rarefaction to study the variation in species richness, and generalized additive mixed models to examine the effect of abiotic factors on the qualitative and quantitative structure of bat assemblages. During 351 surveys we recorded 13,856 hibernating bats from 15 species. Species richness peaked around mid-elevation (1,100-1,400 m a.s.l.) with richness declining at both higher and lower elevations. Based on the results of a cluster analysis, we could distinguish among four altitudinal zones that differed in species richness and dominance structure.Conclusions/Significance: This is the first study documenting changes in species richness and variation of structure of bats hibernating in caves along an elevational gradient. The most surprising and key finding is the fact that changes in the structure of assemblages of hibernating bats along the altitudinal gradient occurred in jumps, forming zones similar to those observed in the vegetation zones. Moreover, species richness and dominance structure of assemblages of hibernating bats in the mountains depended not only on location above sea level, but also on local geomorphologic conditions which strongly affected the microclimate of the caves.

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2013, Volume: 8, number: 7, article number: e68066

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