Anita Freudmann, MSc


Anita Freudmann

Impacts of oil palm plantations on Neotropical bat assemblages


Rising global demand for palm oil mainly comes at the expense of tropical forests. Conversion of forest in favor of intense agriculture fuels contemporary biodiversity loss by modifying or destroying natural habitats and dramatically altering the availability and abundance of resources. Detrimental effects of oil palm cultivation on biodiversity are evident across several taxa, but despite the expansion and importance of this crop, studies in cultivation areas other than Southeast Asia are scarce. Plantations are increasingly emerging on forested lands in Latin America, and impacts of oil palm agriculture on local biodiversity and ecosystems have yet to be evaluated. Responses of keystone groups like bats are of particular ecological and economic importance, as bats provision crucial ecosystem services such as seed dispersal, pollination and arthropod predation.

We investigated the impacts of these monocultures on Neotropical bats by comparing assemblages in undisturbed forest, at forest margins and within oil palm plantations in Southern Pacific Costa Rica. A total of 1253 individuals from 36 species were caught during 45 mist‐netting nights between February and May 2012. Consistent with findings from Southeast Asia, assemblages in oil palm plantations were distinct from those at forested sites. Plantations were characterized by lower species richness (20 observed species) in comparison to natural habitats (31 in undisturbed forest, and 26 at forest margins). The main difference between bat assemblages from plantations and those from forest sites was an increased relative abundance of certain common canopy frugivores, along with the loss of rare species, such as disturbance‐sensitive Phyllostominae.

Anita2Thus, conversion of forest to oil palm plantations alters assemblage structure and results in an impoverishment of the local bat fauna with species‐specific consequences. Although plantations can serve as flyways for highly mobile matrix‐tolerant bat species, even small plantations act effectively as barriers for many others, in particular for understorey gleaning animalivores. By decreasing landscape permeability even for volatile animals such as bats, oil palm plantations may consequently diminish important ecosystem services provided by the resident fauna and aggravate negative effects of forest fragmentation. Advancing expansion of these monocultures in Latin America calls for appropriate precautionary conservation measures, such as biological corridors and wildlife‐friendly management practices, to protect and preserve biodiversity in oil palm growing countries.


Freudmann A., Mollik P., Tschapka M. & Schulze C.H. (2015) Impacts of oil palm agriculture on phyllostomid bat assemblages. Biodiversity and Conservation. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1007/s10531-015-1021-6. Link to article

Preininger D., Böckle M. , Freudmann A., Starnberger I., Sztatecsny M., Hödl W. (2013): Multimodal signaling in the Small Torrent Frog (Micrixalus saxicola) in a complex acoustic environment. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Volume 67, Issue 9, pp 1449-1456. DOI 10.1007/s00265-013-1489-6 Link to article

Sztatecsny M., Preininger D., Freudmann A., Loretto M., Maier F., Hödl W. (2012): Don’t get the blues: conspicuous nuptial colouration of male moor frogs (Rana arvalis) supports visual mate recognition in large breeding aggregations. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology: 66(12), pp 1587–1593. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-012-1412-6. Link to article

Conference Contributions

Freudmann A., Mollik P., Helbig-Bonitz M., Tschapka M., Schulze C.H. (2013), Bats and oil palm plantations - first insights from Central America. Conference of the Society for Tropical Ecology (gtö), Vienna, Austria. Oral presentation.

Freudmann A., Mollik P., Helbig-Bonitz M., Tschapka M., Schulze C.H. (2013), Bats and oil palm plantations - first insights from Central America. 3rd International Berlin Bat Meeting: Bats in the Anthropocene, Berlin, Germany. Poster presentation (Award winner)

Friesenbichler, K., Schulze, C.H., Mollik, P., Weber, M., Freudmann, A., Schönenberger J. (2013), Diversity of hummingbirds and their floral resources in oil palm plantations and rainforest habitats in the lowlands of southern Costa Rica. Conference of the Society for Tropical Ecology (gtö), Vienna, Austria. Poster presentation.

Freudmann A., Mollik P., Schulze C.H. (2013), Biodiversitätsschwund im tropischen Paradies? Ölpalmplantagen und die Fauna Costa Ricas. 29. Jahrestagung der österreichischen Lateinamerikaforschung, Strobl am Wolfgangsee, Austria.

Mollik P.,Freudmann A., Schulze C.H. (2012), Ölpalmenplantagen: ein neues Problem für die Biodiversität Costa Ricas? Workshop: Tropenforschung in La Gamba. Vienna, Austria.