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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Research project: Promoting the resilience of ecosystem services to climate change: a case study with pine plantations, pine processionary moth and bats

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The main objective of this project is to protect the food-webs that enhance pine processionary moth (PPM) predation by bats, while also considering the resilience of those food-webs to climate change. The main objective of this project is to protect the food-webs that enhance pine processionary moth (PPM) predation by bats, while also considering the resilience of those food-webs to climate change. 

The forestry industry is a key sector for the Portuguese economy where coniferous trees play a significant role. However, since the late 1990s the coniferous plantations in Portugal have been severely plagued by the pine processionary moth (PPM) leading to major forest and economic losses. Moreover, according to predicted climate change it is highly likely that this plague will further expand its distribution and increase in abundance. Most popular pest control methods do not consider the use of natural agents raising concerns about the environmental sustainability of these practices that frequently rely on pesticides. Bats have a great potential to provide pest suppression services and it has already been shown their high ecological and economical value in, for example, corn and pecan nut plantations. Our project has the potential to make a significant contribution for the promotion of pest suppression services by bats at coniferous stands. In here we aim to identify the ecological characteristics (local, landscape and climatic) at pine stands that promote bat foraging behaviour, PPM abundance and presence of the PPM in bat diet. With these results we will also produce maps that identify which areas harbour more suitable ecological conditions for the promotion of the pest suppression services by bats. By designing a sampling scheme covering a mountainous altitudinal gradient, we aim to cover a wide range of climatic conditions that allows the transferability of our results to IPCC’s climate change scenarios. In this way, we will also be able to identify which areas have the potential to retain current pest suppression services by bats and which ecological characteristics should be supported in the management of pine plantations.

The main objective of this project is to protect the food-webs that enhance pine processionary moth (PPM) predation by bats, while also considering the resilience of those food-webs to climate change. For that purpose, we aim to map the ecosystem services of the PPM pest suppression by bats, and evaluate which areas and/or landscape configurations offer better resilience for the subsistence of these ecosystem services considering predicted climate change. The project will provide a powerful tool for the management of the Portuguese pine plantations where bats, as natural predators of pests, could contribute for a significant reduction of costs (by diminishing the losses due to the PPM) in a sustainable way (by diminishing the use of pesticides). In short, the project aims to develop a framework to analyse and promote ecosystem services’ resilience to climate change.

Funded by: FCT, Portugal
Funding duration: 2018–2021

Related research groups

Ecology and Evolution
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