Valuing ecosystem services provided by UK bats under climate change

Lead Research Organisation: UNIVERSITY OF EXETER
Department Name: Biosciences


Given the stark anthropogenically-driven global decline of biodiversity, there is an urgent need to understand nature's contribution to people and how it will be affected by biodiversity decline. Bats are thought to provide important ecosystem services through the suppression of insect pest populations. Molecular approaches have revealed the consumption of a variety of insect pest species by bats [e.g. 1]. However, the actual economic contribution of these pest control services has only been evaluated for one bat species and one crop pest in the USA [2]. In the UK, lack of knowledge about the ecosystem services provided by bats and their economic value is hampering advocacy for bat conservation and engagement of the agricultural and forestry sectors in their conservation. Climate change is a major threat to biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. Bats are predicted to experience range contractions and distributional changes under future climate change [3], but little is known about how these range changes will interact with insect pest distribution changes and affect future pest control services.

This interdisciplinary project combines ecological, molecular, modelling and economic approaches to quantify the ecosystem services provided by UK bats and predict how they will be impacted by future climate change. Through working with our CASE partner, the Bat Conservation Trust, and our collaborative partner, Natural England, and linking to a cross-European COST Action Network on climate change and bats, this project will provide the evidence-base for bat conservation advocacy.
The PhD student will develop the following objectives:
1. Test the ecosystem role of bats through identifying the extent of consumption of major agricultural and forest pests by UK bats. Extensive field sampling across England will be coupled with molecular tools (DNA metabarcoding) to characterise the diet of UK bats and identify key bat species involved in the control of insect pest populations in arable land, pasture and forests.
2. Carry out economic valuation of the contribution of bats to the UK agricultural and forestry sectors through pest suppression. Valuation will be made based on data from objective 1 combined with the Natural Environment Valuation Online (NEVO) tool developed by the University of Exeter, which models the economic activity and value of the agricultural and forestry sectors in the UK. The PhD project will expand this tool with bat-related pest suppression services.
3. Model impacts of future climate change on UK bats and the pest control services they provide. Use ecological niche models to predict future changes in the distribution of key bat species and their insect pest prey and assess future distributional mismatches and their impact on the provision of pest control services.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007504/1 30/09/2019 30/11/2027
2400017 Studentship NE/S007504/1 30/09/2020 31/12/2024 Penelope Fialas