15. Microclimate and niche constructionism in tropical bat caves: A case study from Mount Elgon, Kenya
Published:January 01, 2016
Joyce Lundberg, Donald A. McFarlane, 2016. "15. Microclimate and niche constructionism in tropical bat caves: A case study from Mount Elgon, Kenya", Caves and Karst Across Time, Joshua M. Feinberg, Yongli Gao, E. Calvin Alexander, Jr.
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Significant impacts on cave microclimate from large populations of the bat Rousettus aegyptiacus have been documented in three simple caves in pyroclastic rock of Mount Elgon National Park, Kenya, one of which, Kitum Cave, with few bats, acts as a control, indicating microclimatic variations in the absence of significant biological activity. Seven days of temperature logger records, and on-site mapping of rock and air temperature, humidity, and air flow provide the basis for modeling of heat, water, and CO2 production and dispersion. Internal temperatures in the presence of bats in Mackingeny Cave and Ngwarisha Cave rise to ~18 °C above ambient (from ~12 °C to ~30 °C), but in the control site by only ~2 °C. Excess bat-generated energy is dissipated by conduction to rock and by ongoing air circulation, the strongest of which accompanies bat entry and exit flights. In Kitum Cave, temperatures that are substantially lower than bat thermo-neutral zone raise concern for Allee effects on long-term colony fitness: Modeling indicates that a population of at least 100,000 bats should promote colony vitality. Metabolic outputs were modeled to yield corrosional potential: At these population densities, were the caves in limestone, rates of surface denudation caused directly by metabolic outputs would be 1 m in ~80,000 yr. These results confirm that tropical bats can be effective niche constructionists, by optimizing microclimatic roost conditions, by longer-term bioerosional optimization of rock surfaces for roosting, and by long-term niche engineering through zoo-speleogenetic enlargement of roost volume.