Acoustic activity of bats at power lines correlates with relative humidity: a potential role for corona discharges

Abstract

With the ever-increasing dependency on electric power, electrical grid networks are expanding worldwide. Bats exhibit a wide diversity of foraging and flight behaviours, and their sensitivity to anthropogenic stressors suggests this group is very likely to be affected by power lines in a myriad of ways. Yet the effects of power lines on bats remains unknown. Here we assessed the responses of insectivorous bats to very high voltage power lines (VHVPL; greater than 220 kV). We implemented a paired sampling design and monitored bats acoustically at 25 pairs, one pair consisting of one forest edge near to VHVPL matched with one control forest edge. Relative humidity mediates the effects of power lines on bats: we detected bat attraction to VHVPL at high relative humidity levels and avoidance of VHVPL by bats at low relative humidity levels. We argue that the former could be explained by insect attraction to the light emitted by VHVPL owing to corona discharges while the latter may be owing to the physical presence of pylons/cables at foraging height and/or because of electromagnetic fields. Our work highlights the response of bats to power lines at foraging habitats, providing new insight into the interactions between power lines and biodiversity

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