DOI: 10.1007/s10144-016-0557-y

Predation of wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) on hibernating bats

1. Animal Ecology and Physiology Group, Institute for Water and Wetland Research, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

2. Apeldoorn, The Netherlands

Correspondence to:
Anne-Jifke Haarsma
Email: ahaarsma@dds.nl

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Abstract

Bat hibernacula with high numbers of bats can become high-risk areas, as they attract flying and non-flying predators. In order to protect hibernating bats effectively, more knowledge about mortality factors is needed. During the winters of 2003–2015, we found 214 dead bats in 12 hibernacula in The Netherlands province of Zuid-Holland. Most bat remains were found in December and January, with a second peak in April. Their remains showed a typical pattern of lesions consistent with those caused by predation by the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). Trail camera surveys showed that wood mice actively searched for bats. Predation pressure seemed to vary between winters, with a peak in the winters of 2004, 2011 and 2015. The annual mortality (relative to the maximum winter population size) caused by wood mouse predation varied between 0.1 and 8.8 %, with a maximum local effect of 83.6 %. The years with high wood mouse predation pressure were characterized by a long frost period and a low mast production of common oak in the preceding autumn. The size of a hibernaculum and the population density of its bats had an effect on predation-dependent mortality. The highest predation risk occurred near the entrance of bunkers. From these results we tentatively conclude that predation is not incidental and that wood mice actively search for and kill hibernating bats or scavenge for weakened individuals.

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