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Bats are flying mammals, small, poorly understood, and often unloved!
Flying silently in darkness and hiding during the day in dark places, sometimes in simple cracks, their very discreet habits made them mysterious. This explains the popular prejudices and beliefs against them.
BATS IN FRANCE
In France, there are 34 species of bats that are grouped into four distinct families: the Rhinopomatidae (4 species), Miniopterinae (1 species), Vespertilioninae (28 species) and Molossidae (1 specie).
The Rhinopomatidae are tan with a cream or almost white belly, and broad, brown wings. This family is characterized by a nose in the shape of a horseshoe and the presence of nose-leaves around the muzzle, for ultrasound emission. Indeed, Rhinopomatidae are the only bats to emit ultrasound through the nose. In addition, the attachment hanging upside down is also characteristic of this family. Suspended by the legs, they wrap themselves in their wings at rest. They have the ability to rotate their body completely and show extreme mobility of the head, two advantages that mean they can visualize their environment for 360 ° without leaving a lookout post.
In this family, we can identify the Lesser Horseshoe Bat, the Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat, Mehely’s Horseshoe Bat, (classified as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN Red List of endangered species in France), and the Greater Horseshoe Bat (the first target species of the LIFE+ Chiro Med program).
The shape and location of their ears can differentiate. In this family, we can distinguish the Geoffroy's Bata, Lump Nosed bats, and others.
Grey or brown on the back and yellowish-grey on the belly, the Geoffroy's Bata have smooth noses, and dark grey-brown ears which are composed of a small internal flap (tragus). Their broad wings are folded along their body when they are suspended and at rest. Among them is Geoffroy‘s Bat, (the second species targeted by the LIFE+ Chiro Med program).
Lump nosed bats have huge ears that almost touch the forehead, it seems as if their eyes are at the base of the ears.
Their coat is grey or brown. Among the Vespertilionidae, we can also distinguish the Barbastelle, smaller than lump nosed bats with small, black, square ears, and the Pipistrelle, which is the bat most prevalent in urban areas, and only a few centimetres long . Reddish-brown on the back and yellowish-brown to grey-brown on the belly, its ears are short and triangular with a rounded tip, his nose is dark brown.
The European Free Tailed Bat, Mediterranean species is the only representative of this family in Europe and France. This bat is characterized by a long tail, two large ears, and a broad and large snout similar to that of a dog.
The Miniopterus family has the largest global distribution of bats. This genus includes 19 species of which only one, the Schreibers' bat, is present in Europe and France. This medium-sized species has an elongated body, long wings, a thin head with a short muzzle, a prominent forehead typically triangular, and short ears.
WHY THESE TWO SPECIES TARGETED BY LIFE + CHIRO MED PROGRAM
The species targeted by the program, the Greater Horseshoe Bat and Geoffroy‘s Bat, are endangered species in decline in France and Europe, despite their regulatory protection at national, European and global levels, due to their ecological characteristics, their high sensitivity to disturbance and low population renewal.
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon regions have a strong responsibility for the conservation of these species. Indeed, the main populations of these two species are concentrated in the program area, namely the Camargue, the Alpilles and the Gardon gorges. In winter, they come to hibernate in the cavities of the Alpilles and the Gardon gorges, and in summer they feed and reproduce in the Camargue.
In addition, the breeding population of Greater Horseshoe Bat in the Camargue represents 75% of the breeding population in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azurand and 24% of the French Mediterranean breeding population. The wintering population of the Alpilles and the Gardon gorges represents 13% of the French Mediterranean wintering population. For Geoffroy’s Bat, the scope of the program involves 10% of the French breeding population.
These species are facing five major threats:
Threat 1: LOSS AND ALTERATION OF BREEDING GROUNDS
During the summer, both species breed primarily in buildings. In winter they hibernate in natural cavities (caves) or artificial cavities (mines, underground caves ...).
All these breeding grounds are affected by various factors:
- Disappearance (demolition of buildings, attics being inhabited, caving mines, etc..)
- Alteration (modification and toxic treatments to roofs, illumination of churches, etc..)
- Depletion (new architecture incompatible with the presence of bats, etc..)
- Disturbances (unwanted visits to attics, caves, etc.)..
Threat 2: LOST AND ALTERATION OF NATURAL HABITATS
Changes that have occurred since the 70s in agricultural practices and land use have led to a drastic change of scenery and a disappearance or alteration of habitats favourable to bats. In the context of the project, special threats are:
- The conversion of grassland to intensive monocultures,
- Erosion of environments due to the expansion of urban areas and human influence,
- The dismantling of landscape structures (uprooting hedges, forests etc..)
- The closure of certain environments due to the abandonment of pastoral practices (Alpilles, Gardon)
- Changing environments due to overgrazing (Camargue).
Threat 3: THE REDUCTION OF FOOD RESOURCES
In the area covered by the project, the main factor responsible for the decrease of food resources is changing pastoral practices. Indeed, new powerful worming products have emerged, and are used broadly by farmers (type Avermectins) in the prophylactic treatment of their livestock. Their extensive use has had a devastating effect on coprophage wildlife including the Greater Horseshoe Bat (dung beetles) and Geoffrey’s Bat (flies). This problem is a major concern.
Threat 4: ROAD MORTALITY
The increase in infrastructure has two possible consequences on animals: firstly a progressive isolation of populations leading to genetic impoverishment and the other the increased risk of collisions with vehicles. It is this second problem which is the biggest direct threat to bats.
Several authors believe that road mortality is strongly underestimated (Bickmore and Wyatt, 2006; Neri, 2006, Kiefer et al., 1998). The areas most deadly are those where high speed roads intersect wooded corridors followed by animals. The young bats, less experienced in flight are the most affected.
Threat 5: THE FAILURE BY SCIENCE AND THE PUBLIC
Bats are poorly understood and this is particularly true for the Greater Horseshoe Bat and Geoffroy’s Bat within the Mediterranean area (Ransome and Hutson, 2000; Bensettiti and Gaudillat, 2002). Without regular monitoring of populations, changes in numbers and annual variations will remain unknown. All these shortcomings limit the current formulation of management practices by the SIC (Sites d’Intérêt Communautaire).
Within the general public bats are associated with erroneous beliefs that affect their reputation and sometimes attract direct persecution. With regard to specialists consideration of bats is generally poor to non-existent in all fields (architecture, pastoralism, roads ...).
It is therefore necessary to undertake a major project to raise awareness, provide information and training to both the general public and professionals.
If no action is taken for these two species, their population may be affected in the short term. Inaction could have a rapid local effect but in addition, it would spread further than the region, depriving European environmental managers of basic data.
Thus, the LIFE+ Chiro Med program is the opportunity to implement far reaching and complex actions favourable to the biodiversity throughout the Camargue, the Alpilles and the Gorges du Gardon, with the aim to consolidate and sustain these exceptional populations of Greater Horseshoe and Geoffroy’s Bats. Thus, these 29 actions are in place to address the five threats to these species.