Sensory Traps in Arid Environments of Mexico: New Insights for Bat Conservation in a Drier Future

Carlos Eduardo Restrepo Giraldo

Humans quickly induce changes in the environment as a by-product of our activities and the ecological novel objects we create. When confronting these novel objects or environments, organisms can fall into sensory traps, negatively affecting the fitness of the trapped species. This can occur at different magnitudes and by different mechanisms depending on the behaviour involved (reproduction, foraging, habitat selection). Insectivorous bats in arid environments may run the risk of falling into a sensory trap when interacting with solar photovoltaic facilities, since during their evolutionary history they have adapted to detect water surfaces through acoustic signatures that turn out to be like those of other acoustically smooth surfaces, such as solar photovoltaic panels. In the arid landscapes of the Central Plateau of Mexico where water bodies are scarce and solar photovoltaic facilities prosper, this adaptive trait can provide conflicting information about the presence of a resource that is not available or suitable. Consequently, bats that try to drink from the photovoltaic panels will not obtain any benefit, and furthermore, bat species with fast flight but poor manoeuvrability will likely be exposed to collide with some parts of the infrastructure of these facilities.

Therefore, this work seeks to:

(1) identify the mechanisms by which a sensory trap for insectivorous bats could be triggered in the context of solar photovoltaic facilities in arid landscapes of the Central Plateau of Mexico.

(2) diagnose the potential for such traps to arise under scenarios of temperature change and desertification in arid landscapes, where the proportion of water bodies and photovoltaic surfaces varies; and

(3) propose adaptive management strategies to mitigate the potential impacts of these renewable energy projects on wildlife. This will be achieved through simultaneous ultrasonic detection of insectivorous bats at solar photovoltaic facilities and nearby water bodies, employing relative activity indexes to estimate its use preference and variation through time.

Knowing how insectivorous use arid landscapes with a significant presence of solar photovoltaic facilities, and progressively less free water bodies, will allow us to understand how some species are adapting to a drier future, while other species are being left behind in a changing environment with scant possibilities to adapt to new habitats where water availability will diminish over time. This research will provide support to solar project and land stakeholders for developing strategies that will limit and mitigate the potential negative impacts of solar farming on insectivorous bats.

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