Identification of summer habitat of the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and three other bat species of special concern within the Ozark - Central Recovery Unit; with application for landscape distribution use.
July 2014 - December 2016
- USGS Science Support Partnership Program
Knowledge and understanding of bat habitat associations are critical for effective conservation and management of many species of forest bats, including the federally endangered Indiana bat which uses bottomland forests for both summer foraging and roosting habitat. Current information gaps surrounding summer habitat use and selection limits agency ability to engage in adaptive resource management and make optimum forest management decisions. This proposal addresses both Priority 1 Recovery Actions aimed at preventing extinction and Priority 2 Recovery Actions aimed at preventing a significant decline in Indiana bats as identified in the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis) Draft Recovery Plan: First Revision (USFWS 2007). In addition, this proposal addresses several Priority 3 Recovery Actions necessary to provide for full recovery of the species. Indiana bat Recovery Units correspond with Eco-regional Divisions and Provinces, as defined by Bailey (1997), which suggest broad-level differences in habitat use among Indiana bat populations. This differential use of habitat further corresponds to differences in land use and threats to the species. The Recovery units facilitate the development and implementation of Recovery Actions that are specific to different macro-habitat types, land uses, and threats (USFWS 2007). By locating and monitoring existing maternity colonies on public lands within the Ozark - Central Recovery Unit (Fig. 1) as well as analyzing the environmental variables that influence habitat selection, we will be able to help fill in some of these information gaps and to help better define the variability in characteristics of maternity colony habitats across this segment of the species’ distribution (Priority 1 Recovery Action 3.3.2 and Priority 3 Recovery Actions 3.3.3 and 3.3.4). This proposal has great potential to provide new insights into landscape forest characteristics, conditions, and management methods for roosting and foraging sites because it is studying Indiana bats at multiple sites contemporaneously, using the same techniques for collection and analysis of the habitat data. Monitoring Indiana bat populations and understanding habitat associations are important to halt and counteract the overall decline of the species. Some causes of decline or extinction of Indiana bat colonies have been related to loss or fragmentation of foraging and roosting habitat such as bottomland hardwood forests and loss of hibernating areas (hibernacula). Wind energy development and White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) have also impacted bat populations (USFWS 2007, USFWS 2012). The information obtained through this research will offer new insight into recovery needs of the Indiana bat. Monitoring bat population trends and use of habitats that are also used by other wildlife species can help determine if one or more of these bat species can be selected as a surrogate species for future conservation efforts. Research benefits will include development of habitat management guidelines for Indiana bats and other bat species of concern to be used on federal, public, and privately-owned lands throughout its range within the Ozark - Central Recovery Unit (Priority 3 Recovery Actions 2.2.1, 18.104.22.168, and 22.214.171.124). The guidelines will help land managers focus conservation and management efforts on Indiana bats and their habitat for the present and future (Recovery Action 2.2). Recommendations will address the primary components of Indiana bat habitat, including, but not limited to: 1) recruitment and sustained supply of suitable maternity roost sites, 2) management and maintenance of foraging habitat, and 3) management and maintenance of travel corridors (Priority 3 Recovery Actions 2.2.1 and 2.4.2). Ecological Services will be able to utilize the information to inform management recommendations for recovery efforts, to conduct analyses, and to more effectively make recommendations to avoid and minimize adverse impacts to the Indiana bat and its habitat during review of projects permitted under the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (Recovery Action 2.6). OBJECTIVES: Our primary objective is to locate maternity colonies of forest bats, especially Indiana bats, and characterize maternity roosting on Cypress Creek and Mingo National Wildlife Refuges, in order to gain a better understanding of habitat selection in the Ozark – Central Recovery Unit. If it becomes necessary, due to unsuccessful capture of Indiana bats, secondary focal species of Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, Southeastern myotis, and Northern long-eared bat maternity roost populations will also be located and characterized. Second, we will identify and model focal species habitat characteristics on refuges, as well as on USACE and state lands where colonies have been previously located. Third, we will collect fecal samples for two other related bat projects through the University of Missouri, to study diet and stress related impacts. These objectives will provide baseline data to track bat use and population estimates. Specific objectives of the research are: 1. Survey forest bat communities with emphasis on distribution of Indiana bats and species of special conservation concern using mist nets and acoustic sampling. Acoustic sampling along transects will provide baseline data and long-term monitoring of the population status and distribution of Indiana bats and other species of special conservation concern on federal lands and other public lands. This data is necessary to assist with current and future forest management and to prioritize land acquisition decisions. Bats that are captured will be banded to track recapture and/or movement patterns on and off-refuge. They will be examined for symptoms of WNS and a fecal sample will be collected. 2. Use radio telemetry to locate maternity colonies, monitor foraging habits and corridor utilization by Indiana bats and bats of special concern, and evaluate habitat selection of foraging and roosting resources by maternity colonies. Identification of maternity colony sites on and off-refuge, including USACE-managed and state-managed land, will enhance understanding of the summer populations and habitat characteristics of Indiana bats across the Ozark-Central Recovery Unit. The use of telemetry, along with comparing forest composition, will facilitate identification of the local and landscape-scale distribution and movements of maternity colonies. Information on how reproductive females select roosting and foraging sites will guide land managers in determining which forest conditions and management methods are necessary for the survival and long term viability of maternity colonies. The information may allow us to model future trends across the landscape based on ideal habitat characteristics. 3. Assess forest stand structure of roosting and foraging areas in comparison to areas without known roosting or foraging to determine Indiana bat habitat selection. Compare to the overall Refuge forest stand characteristics and desired forest conditions identified by the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture (LMVJV) Forest Resource Conservation Working Group (2007). Classified desired forest conditions (e.g., overstory canopy cover, midstory cover, understory cover, basal area, small/large cavities, standing dead/stressed trees, etc.) for wildlife have been identified by the LMVJV (LMVJV 2007). While positive responses have been observed by some wildlife species, specifically birds, following management actions creating these desired forest conditions (Twedt and Somershoe 2009), there is still a poor understanding of the how these desired forest conditions compare to habitat selected by roosting or foraging forest bat species. These differing landscapes within the Recovery Unit where maternity roost trees have been identified, will be compared contemporaneously to elucidate potential forest stand conditions that can benefit Indiana bat populations and provide for long-term regeneration and stability for future forests. Forest conditions need to reflect the collective needs of priority wildlife species, including forest bats.