Even though agricultural lands provide abundant food to aerial insectivorous bats (AIB), our understanding of how spatio-temporal factors affect their foraging behavior in these habitats is limited and mostly restricted to temperate regions. In this study, we examined species richness, composition and patterns of activity of AIB in rice fields in the northwestern Llanos of Venezuela. Between 2013 and 2014, we conducted acoustic monitoring of AIB in two rice fields with contrasting forest cover, throughout three phases of the life cycle of this crop (vegetative, reproductive, and ripening), during the dry and rainy season. Out of 108 h recorded, we processed 12,630 files and identified 15 species and 10 sonotypes of AIB from families Molossidae, Mormoopidae, Vespertilionidae, Emballonuridae and Noctilionidae. Molossus molossus and Myotis nigricans showed the highest levels of feeding and general activity across species. The index of general activity (IGA) of AIB was higher above rice fields with more surrounding forest cover, during the dry season and throughout the entire life cycle of the plant. Relative feeding activity (RFA) did not change with respect to forest cover, season or crop phase, but a significant effect of the interaction of these factors was observed on this variable. The response of IGA and RFA to forest cover, season or crop phase was different between M. molossus and M. nigricans and among functional groups. Our results indicate that rice fields in the Venezuelan Llanos can be active feeding grounds for open space and edge-habitat foraging species of insect-feeding bats. Forest patches can promote AIB activity by favoring foraging of ‘edge’ species above rice fields. Higher general activity of most AIB species during the dry season suggests that rice fields are used more intensively when insect populations decrease in semi-deciduous forest patches around them. Overall, our results suggest that availability of abundant feeding areas to AIB, provided by the rice fields, together with presence of artificial and natural roosts to these bats, could ensure year-round permanence of a rich ensemble of AIB in the rice field-forest landscape in the northwestern Llanos of Venezuela. Some of these species could be the subject of field experiments to test their value in the control of rice's insect pest populations.
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Vol. 21 • No. 1