Optimal foraging in seasonal environments: implications for residency of Australian flying foxes in food-subsidized urban landscapes

05 Feb 2018

Bats provide important ecosystem services such as pollination of native forests; they are also a source of zoonotic pathogens for humans and domestic animals. Human-induced changes to native habitats may have created more opportunities for bats to reside in urban settings, thus decreasing pollination services to native forests and increasing opportunities for zoonotic transmission. In Australia, fruit bats (Pteropus spp. flying foxes) are increasingly inhabiting urban areas where they feed on anthropogenic food sources with nutritional characteristics and phenology that differ from native habitats. We use optimal foraging theory to investigate the relationship between bat residence time in a patch, the time it takes to search for a new patch (simulating loss of native habitat) and seasonal resource production. We show that it can be beneficial to reside in a patch, even when food productivity is low, as long as foraging intensity is low and the expected searching time is high. A small increase in the expected patch searching time greatly increases the residence time, suggesting nonlinear associations between patch residence and loss of seasonal native resources. We also found that sudden increases in resource consumption due to an influx of new bats has complex effects on patch departure times that again depend on expected searching times and seasonality. Our results suggest that the increased use of urban landscapes by bats may be a response to new spatial and temporal configurations of foraging opportunities. Given that bats are reservoir hosts of zoonotic diseases, our results provide a framework to study the effects of foraging ecology on disease dynamics.