Bats and fire: a global review
Background: Bats are important components of forested ecosystems and are found in forests worldwide. Consequently, they often interact with fire. Previous reviews of the effects of fire on bats have focused on prescribed fire effects, in part due to the limited number of studies on bat responses to wildfire. However, over the past several years, studies on bat responses to wildfire and prescribed fire have increased considerably. We reviewed this rapidly expanding body of literature to determine whether bats respond differently to prescribed fire and wildfire, and the important factors driving those differences. We also examined regional similarities and differences in bat response to prescribed fire and wildfire and identified areas in need of further research.
Results: Our review included 52 studies (29 prescribed fire, 23 wildfire) from North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Africa, although studies from Europe, South America, and Africa were limited. In general, we found that bats show positive or neutral responses to prescribed fire, whereas a greater proportion of negative responses were reported for wildfire. However, some of the negative responses to wildfire are short-lived or local, suggesting that bats may be resilient to the effects of fire. Factors such as fire severity, fire frequency, time since last burn, burn extent, season of burn, and pyrodiversity were all found to be important drivers of bats’ responses to both prescribed fire and wildfire.
Conclusions: The importance of the spatial and temporal aspects of fire suggests that these factors need to be considered when designing future studies and interpreting results. Pyrodiversity may be a particularly important concept to further our understanding of bats’ responses to fire. We found several gaps in our knowledge including lack of information on direct effects of fire (e.g., mortality), regional and taxonomic biases, effects of wildfire on roosting habitat, and the effects of climate change. Although current studies suggest that fire may be an important management tool for improving bat habitat, the threat of more frequent, extensive, and severe wildfires may put additional stress on some bat populations, particularly those being impacted by disease, habitat loss and fragmentation, and climate change.