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Development of Gating

The large number of abandoned mines in the USA, the need to maintain public safety and to conserve resident bats has led to extensive gating of both mines and caves (Dalton and Dalton 1995; Vories et al. 2004). Gating has long been a controversial subject within the speleological community (Kennedy 2006), and similarly for bat conservationists, not least because gates installed at cave entrances from the 1950s through the early 1970s virtually always led to roost abandonment (Tuttle 1977). Much has been learnt through trial and error however, so that studies of more recently installed cave gates provide grounds for optimism

(e.g. Pierson et al. 1991, Stihler and Hall 1993; Decher and Choate 1995; Fant et al. 2009). For instance, Martin et al. (2003) recorded a statistically significant increase in the numbers of M. grisescens from 60,130 to 70,640 bats between 1981 and 2001 in 25 gated caves in Oklahoma, USA. However, recent studies before and after gating hibernacula of M. sodalis reported decreased rates of growth for increasing populations and the reverse for declining populations (Crimmins et al. 2014). Berthinussen et al. (2014) summarise the mixed results of ten gating studies on three continents.

Because fencing is more easily vandalized, gating is recognized by many as more successful at preventing disturbance. However, species such as T. brasiliensis cannot tolerate gates due to their flight geometry and large colony sizes, and for bat species that can, it is critical to establish their preferred design. Improperly designed gates can alter cave environments by restricting air circulation, causing population declines (Richter et al. 1993). For example, M. grisescens requires an open flyway above gates, whereas P. townsendii will tolerate full gates with horizontal bars (Tuttle 1977). In the UK, Pugh and Altringham (2005) examined the effect of different sizes of horizontal gate spacings on numbers of Natterer's bats (Myotis nattereri) entering swarming sites in autumn and provided clear recommendations for future gate design. While a detailed treatment of the subject is beyond the scope of the present chapter, the proceedings of a multidisciplinary meeting to develop gate design provides a wide variety of well-illustrated examples of gated caves and mines (Vories et al. 2004) and similarly useful advice is given in Hildreth-Werker and Werker (2006), Mitchell-Jones et al. (2007) and Fant et al. (2009).

Nevertheless, a great deal remains to be learnt about the reactions of bats to gates, even in the USA and Canada, where most of the voluminous information available is anecdotal with few systematic studies conducted to date (Sherwin and Altenbach 2004; Spanjer and Fenton 2005). For instance, Vories et al. (2004) recommended studies of the effects of gates on cave microclimate, wind tunnel assessments of the airflow characteristics of different gate designs, the acoustic signatures of the gates and their possible interference with echolocation calls. Since gates have the potential of protecting cave bats from disturbance but little or no information exists on the responses to gating of hundreds of species across the world, clearly much research lies ahead.

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