Recent research from the University of Turku reveals that the restoration of wetlands in Finland has created a thriving haven for bats. The study, carried out over four summers between 2018-2022, is the first to measure the impact of wetland restoration on this threatened mammal group.

In a time when many species are facing decline and extinction due to human activities, wetland restoration has become crucial for biodiversity conservation.

Wetlands are known for their rich ecosystems, pivotal roles in controlling greenhouse gases and floods, and facilitating nutrient cycling. However, in Finland, much of these ecosystems have been drained for forestry and agriculture, causing many wetland species to face endangerment.

The Hydrology LIFE project, a six-year EU funded initiative led by Metsähallitus Parks and Wildlife Finland, aims to restore these degraded peatlands. By 2023, the project has succeeded in restoring more than 5,000 hectares of wetlands across over 100 locations.

This study, part of the Hydrology LIFE project, has demonstrated that wetland restoration can significantly increase the activity of bats, a group that currently holds special conservation status.

Using bat detectors that record the high-frequency calls of bats, the researchers were able to monitor the bat activity in 21 sites across Southwest Finland. In total, they recorded over 10,000 nights, revealing that bat activity notably increased in restored wetlands. The researchers attribute this increased activity to the improved abundance of insects in these areas. Among the most detected bat species were the northern bat and several species of mouse-eared bats.

"Bats are fascinating perhaps because they are so secretive. When I placed the detectors during the day, I was always excited about what it would record during the coming nights," comments Dr. Anna Blomberg, a researcher involved in the study.

Bats are considered reliable indicators of a healthy ecosystem due to their insect-based diets. The insects they feed on often have specific environmental requirements, making bats a good measure of habitat quality. In Finland, 13 species of bats can be found, most of which overwinter and breed in the country.

Blomberg further notes, "The abundance of insects allows bats to reproduce in the northern latitudes despite the short summers. Restoring wetlands creates a more varied landscape with good feeding places for bats which is expected to be beneficial for these protected species."

By measuring bat activity before and after the restoration, the research provides robust evidence that the increased bat activity is indeed a result of the restoration efforts. The Finnish study is one of the few worldwide to investigate the impact of wetland restoration on bats, making it a crucial contribution to conservation research.

Maria Tiusanen, the Hydrology LIFE project manager, states, "The aim of Hydrology LIFE is to recover the degraded wetland habitats towards the original state which is vital for many valuable species. It is therefore great that we as part of our project also can show that restoring wetlands benefits wildlife."

The findings not only underscore the importance of wetland restoration but also highlight the potential of these efforts to support the recovery and conservation of threatened species such as bats. It adds to the growing body of evidence advocating for sustainable human intervention to counteract the negative impacts of habitat degradation and loss.