Journal Articles

Habitat associations of overwintering bats in managed pine forest landscapes

May 20, 2022

Forests 13(5):803

Brett R. Anderson, Liam P. McGuire, Thomas Bentley Wigley (NCASI, retired), Darren A. Miller (NCASI), and Richard D. Stevens

Seasonal variation in environmental conditions coinciding with reproductive and energetic demands might result in seasonal differences in species-specific habitat use. We studied a winter assemblage of insectivorous bats and found that species acted as habitat generalists during winter compared to expectations based on the summer active season. Background and Objectives: In temperate regions, seasonal fluctuations in resource availability might restructure local bat assemblages. Initially perceived to only hibernate or migrate to avoid adverse winter conditions, temperate insectivorous bats appear to also employ intermediate overwintering strategies, as a growing body of literature suggests that winter activity is quite prevalent and even common in some lower latitude areas. However, to date, most studies have exclusively assessed habitat associations during summer. Because habitat use during summer is strongly influenced by reproduction, we hypothesized that habitat associations might differ during the non-reproductive winter period. We used acoustic monitoring to assess the habitat associations of bats across a managed pine landscape in the southeastern United States. Materials and Methods: During the winters of 2018 and 2019, we deployed acoustic detectors at 72 unique locations to monitor bat activity and characterized vegetation conditions at two scales (microhabitat and landscape). We used linear mixed models to characterize species-specific activity patterns associated with different vegetation conditions. Results: We found little evidence of different activity patterns during winter. The activity of three species (hoary bat: Lasiurus cinereus; southeastern myotis: Myotis austroriparius; and tricolored bat: Perimyotis subflavus) was not related to vegetation variables and only modest relationships were evident for four other species/groups (big brown bat: Eptesicus fuscus; eastern red bat: L. borealis; Seminole bat: L. seminolus; evening bat: Nycticeius humeralis; and Brazilian free-tailed bat: Tadarida brasiliensis). Conclusions: During winter, the bats in our study were active across the landscape in various cover types, suggesting that they do not exhibit the same habitat associations as in summer. Therefore, seasonal differences in distributions and habitat associations of bat populations need to be considered so that effective management strategies can be devised that help conserve bats year round.

bat, activity, winter, southeast, acoustic detectors, forests, Louisiana, Texas, forest management