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New Distribution Records for Bats in Northwestern North Carolina
Gabrielle J. Graeter, Corinne A. Diggins, Kendrick C. Weeks, and Mary K. Clark

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 14, Issue 1 (2015): 98–105

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Southeastern Naturalist G.J. Graeter, C.A. Diggins, K.C. Weeks, and M.K. Clark 2015 Vol. 14, No. 1 98 2015 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 14(1):98–105 New Distribution Records for Bats in Northwestern North Carolina Gabrielle J. Graeter1,*, Corinne A. Diggins2, Kendrick C. Weeks1, and Mary K. Clark3 Abstract - Bats in the eastern US face many significant threats, and more information on the distribution, natural history, and condition of multiple bat species is needed for conservation planning and management. To address this need for the northwestern mountain region of North Carolina, we conducted a large-scale, 3-day bat blitz in 2011 at 30 mist-net sites across 6 counties. We documented the presence of 8 species and obtained new county and summer records for 7 of those 8. Most notably, in McDowell County we documented Lasiurus seminolus (Seminole Bat), a species associated with Coastal Plain habitats and for which there were no previous records in the northwestern mountain region of North Carolina. “Bio-blitz” inventories have many benefits beyond scientific results, including opportunities to share research ideas, foster new collaborations, train students in techniques, and provide educational programs. Introduction Bats are nocturnal, small, highly mobile, and relatively difficult to capture (Parsons and Szewczak 2009). Consequently, inventory methods for bats, including mist-netting and roost surveys, can be logistically difficult and expensive relative to the information gained. In some cases, researchers have been able to inventory large, previously unstudied areas by spreading efforts over the course of many years (Brack et al. 2004, Timpone et al. 2011). However, due to limited funding and staffing, most state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations are not able to adequately inventory species on a landscape or large geographic scale. As a result, there are significant gaps in distributional information for both rare and common species across the eastern US (Bender and Parmley 2008, Menzel et al. 2003, Timpone et al. 2011). The need to fill gaps in bat distribution data has become increasingly important in light of the severity of threats facing bats in the eastern US. Human-related activities including agricultural pesticide use, hibernacula disturbance, pointand non-point-source pollution, and wind-energy development contribute to habitat degradation, loss, and fragmentation, and consequently, reductions in bat populations (Arnett et al. 2008, Jones et al. 2009, Kunz et al. 2011, Tuttle 1979). Additionally, White-nose Syndrome (WNS), which is considered the most devastating wildlife disease to date, has resulted in extensive population declines of 1North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 1701 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699. 2Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061. 3Moonlight Environmental Consulting, 1612 Bayleaf Trail, Raleigh, NC 27614. *Corresponding author - gabrielle.graeter@ncwildlife.org. Manuscript Editor: Karen Powers Southeastern Naturalist 99 G.J. Graeter, C.A. Diggins, K.C. Weeks, and M.K. Clark 2015 Vol. 14, No. 1 multiple species of cave-hibernating bats in eastern North America (Frick et al. 2010, Turner et al. 2011). The severity of WNS and other threats has highlighted the importance of long-term population monitoring and thus, the need for local baseline data in many regions. Prior to the discovery of WNS in North Carolina in early 2011, state and federal partners reassessed data needs and priorities for cave-bat species. The majority of winter hibernacula (i.e., caves and mines) occur in the mountain region of the state, and a long-term monitoring program associated with these over-wintering bat populations has been in place for many years. A considerable number of summer surveys have been conducted in the southwestern mountain region (e.g., NCWRC 2010, O’Keefe 2009) because of the regulatory requirement to learn more about summer populations of Myotis sodalis Miller and Allen (Indiana Bat), but summer baseline data are inadequate from the northwestern mountain region. To address this need, we conducted a large-scale, rapid-assessment bat blitz in the northwestern mountain region of North Carolina in August 2011 to provide data on species composition and distribution. Herein, we report the results of the bat blitz and discuss the benefits of using a blitz to obtain distribution information. Site Description The northwestern mountain region of North Carolina is a part of the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion (NCWRC 2005). This ecoregion has a high diversity of habitat types due to the region’s topography and geological diversity (NCWRC 2005). We established 30 mist-net sites in 6 counties—Avery, Burke, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga, and Yancey (Fig. 1). All sites were within a 48.3-km radius of our housing location in Crossnore, NC (36°0'N, 81°55'W). We selected sites based largely upon the information needs of the cooperating agencies, and also ensured sites represented a wide variety of habitat types present in the region. Sites were on private, state (NC Department of Parks and Recreation, NC Forest Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission [NCWRC]), and federal (National Park Service, US Forest Service) lands. Depending upon elevation and aspect, dominant vegetation types sampled included floodplain forests, Quercus spp. (oak) forests, dry coniferous woodlands, cove forests, bogs and associated wetlands, and Picea rubens Sarg. (Red Spruce)– Abies fraseri Poir (Fraser Fir) forests (Fig. 1; NCWRC 2005). Site elevations ranged from 507.5 m to 1777 m (mean = 926 m). The average nightly temperature across all sites during the survey period (1–3 August 2011) was 21.3 °C. We obtained precipitation data from remote automated weather stations (RAWS; National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, ID) within the study region (Busick Station in Yancey County, Grandfather Station in McDowell County, Jessen Station in Yancey County, and North Cove Station in Burke County). Precipitation only occurred at the Grandfather Station and totaled 0.25 mm for the 72-hour period of 1–3 August (Western Regional Climate Center 2012), but surveys were not interrupted. Southeastern Naturalist G.J. Graeter, C.A. Diggins, K.C. Weeks, and M.K. Clark 2015 Vol. 14, No. 1 100 Methods We inventoried bats by conducting mist-net surveys on 3 consecutive nights from 1–3 August 2011 as part of the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network (SBDN) Bat-Blitz Program. Ten teams, each led by an experienced bat biologist, surveyed Figure 1. Locations and habitat types of the 30 mist-net sites inventoried across 6 counties in the northwestern mountain region of North Carolina during the SBDN Bat Blitz on 1–3 August 2011. Southeastern Naturalist 101 G.J. Graeter, C.A. Diggins, K.C. Weeks, and M.K. Clark 2015 Vol. 14, No. 1 each site once for a total of 30 survey nights (110 complete net-nights). We determined the number of net-nights by summing set nets across all sites regardless of the size of the net or whether they were stacked or single sets. Teams surveyed each site from civil twilight at about 2100 to midnight, for a total of 3 hours. Team leaders determined the number and placement of nets set at each site. Teams used standard 50-dernier nylon mist nets with 38-mm mesh (Avinet, Inc., Dryden, NY). Net widths varied from 2.6 m to 18 m. Nets were stacked as single-, double-, or triple- high nets (2.6 m, 5.2 m, and 7.8 m, respectively). Teams positioned nets across natural (e.g., streams) and road corridors to capture bats. At the start and end of the survey, teams recorded temperature, Beaufort wind code, cloud cover, visibility, and phase of the moon. We recorded the following information for each bat: species, sex, age class (adult or juvenile), reproductive condition (Racey 2009), right forearm length (± 0.1 mm), and mass (± 0.25 g). Teams banded bats with uniquely numbered, lipped, aluminum-alloy bat bands (Porzana Ltd., East Sussex, UK). We used 4.2-mm bands on the larger-bodied species (i.e., Eptesicus fuscus Beauvois [Big Brown Bat] and Lasiurus cinereus Beauvois [Hoary Bat]) and 2.9-mm bands on all other species. Results We caught a total of 443 bats, including 19 bats that escaped before identification. We captured 7 species known to occur in the northwestern mountain region, and 1 species—Lasiurus seminolus Rhoads (Seminole Bat)—that was previously undocumented in the area. Total captures per species were: 137 Big Brown Bats, 90 Lasiurus borealis Müller (Eastern Red Bats), 81 Myotis lucifugus LeConte (Little Brown Bats), 77 Myotis septentrionalis Trouessart (Northern Long-eared Bats), 19 Perimyotis subflavus Menu (Tri-colored Bats), 17 Myotis leibii Audubon and Bachman (Eastern Small-footed Bats), 2 Hoary Bats, and 1 Seminole Bat (Table 1). We recorded new county or summer records for 7 species in McDowell, Mitchell, and Yancey counties (Table 1). We did not capture 5 bat species that are known to occur in the northwestern mountain region: Corynorhinus rafinesquii rafinesquii Lesson Table 1. Number of mist-netting sites and individual bats captured per species for the 6 counties in the northwestern mountain region of North Carolina inventoried during the SBDN Bat Blitz on 1–3 August 2011. Individual bats that escaped prior to species identification are not included in this table. EPFU = Eptesicus fuscus, LABO = Lasiurus borealis, LACI = Lasiurus cinereus, LASE = Lasiurus seminolus, MYLE = Myotis leibii, MYLU = Myotis lucifugus, MYSE = Myotis septentrionalis), and PESU = Perimyotis subflavus). A = new county record and B = new summer record. Species County # of sites EPFU LABO LACI LASE MYLE MYLU MYSE PESU Avery 8 48 22 0 0 3 28 18 7 Burke 5 13 23 0 0 0 0 2 2 McDowell 6 38B 30 1A 1A 4A 6B 26 4 Mitchell 1 0 1B 0 0 2B 5B 16A 0 Watauga 3 2 1 0 0 2 29 5 2 Yancey 7 36 13 1A 0 6 13B 10A 4 Southeastern Naturalist G.J. Graeter, C.A. Diggins, K.C. Weeks, and M.K. Clark 2015 Vol. 14, No. 1 102 (Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat), the federally endangered C. townsendii virginianus Handley (Virginia Big-eared Bat), Lasionycteris noctivagans LeConte (Silverhaired Bat), Indiana Bat, and Nycticeius humeralis Rafinesque (Evening Bat). Mean rate of capture across all sites was 4.0 bats per net-night (range = 3.4–4.8). Two adult male Eastern Red Bats—1 each from Avery County and Burke County— were taken as specimens due to injuries incurred during surveys. We deposited these specimens in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science’s mammal collection (NCSM 16926, NCSM 16927). Discussion The bat blitz resulted in several new county and summer records (Table 1), thus increasing distribution and demographic knowledge for these species in the northwestern mountain region. Our data for the Eastern Small-footed Bat, Little Brown Bat, and Northern Long-eared Bat are especially important because these species were petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act due to declines resulting from WNS (Kunz and Reichard 2010, USFWS 2011), and the Northern Long-eared Bat has since been proposed for listing (USFWS 2013), intensifying the need for knowledge about its distribution. Distributional records for tree bats are increasingly important due to the potential for wind-energy development in the mountain region of the state (Raichle and Carson 2009). Although several new records for tree-bat species resulted from the inventory, the most significant new record was the male Seminole Bat captured in McDowell County. Seminole Bats are considered to be rare across all of North Carolina, with most previous captures concentrated in the lower Piedmont and throughout the Coastal Plain in the eastern portion of the state (Webster 2000). Prior to this inventory, the only Seminole Bat records in the mountain region of North Carolina were in Buncombe and Cherokee counties (G.J. Graeter, unpubl. data; Webster 2000). The 2 other known county records for this species in the southern Blue Ridge physiographic province are in Monroe County, TN (TNBWG 2012) and Pickens County, SC (Menzel et al. 2003). Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat, Silver-haired Bat, and Evening Bat were previously documented in the northwestern mountain region, but were not captured during this inventory. However, records for these 3 species are in the South Mountains (NCWRC 2010), an isolated mountain range in the southernmost portion of Burke County that we did not sample during this inventory. Likewise, we did not capture Virginia Big-eared Bats despite placement of several netting sites near known locations for this species. Previous surveys in North Carolina resulted in capture of Virginia Big-eared Bats at cave entrances (Clark and Lee 1987, McGrath and Marsh 1997), but none of our sites were located near caves due to concerns about WNS. Although summer populations of this species exist in the northwestern mountain region, their distribution over the landscape may be patchy, potentially leading to a decreased probability of capture during the inventory. We also did not capture any Indiana Bats; however, this result was not surprising considering there is only a single historical record for Indiana Bats in the northwestern mountain region of North Carolina (NCNHP 2013). Southeastern Naturalist 103 G.J. Graeter, C.A. Diggins, K.C. Weeks, and M.K. Clark 2015 Vol. 14, No. 1 Bio-blitz inventories typically occur over a short time period and are rarely repeated in the same location (Karns et al. 2006, Lundmark 2003, O’Keefe et al. 2007). We recognize that there are inherent limitations in gathering data this way. Without repeated sampling over an entire season, multiple seasons, or years, the data are limited in highlighting changes in species distribution or population demographics over the region. Additionally, bat activity is highly variable from night to night (Hayes 1997), which likely affects capture success at a site. Other factors such as net placement, net size, and number of nets may affect the number of bats captured (Carroll et al. 2002, Gilley and Kennedy 2010, Winhold and Kurta 2008). Certain species may be unavailable or have lower capture rates during certain times of the year. However, we chose team leaders for their experience and expertise in mist-netting bats, thereby maximizing the chances of catching bats. Likewise, our decision to inventory a large number of sites in the region rather than netting multiple times at a smaller set of sites was based on studies that show sampling multiple sites increases the probability of capturing more species in an assemblage (Winhold and Kurta 2008) and may increase the probability of detecting rare or uncommon species (Weller and Lee 2007). Despite the abovementioned limitations and challenges of this type of survey method, our inventory proved useful in several ways. First, it provided valuable data and expanded our knowledge of the distribution of multiple species, including several cave species that are threatened by WNS. Although WNS was detected in this region earlier the same year, effects were minimal, and the information gained from our inventory produced a much-needed dataset for some species that was comparable to pre-WNS baseline data. It also provided data on bat condition (e.g., reproductive status, mass, wing condition) that can be used for future population status assessments. This inventory helped us to identify several priority sites that represent a valuable addition to our long-term summer monitoring program. Finally, bio-blitz inventories have benefits that reach far beyond their scientific data output (Krusac et al. 2008, Lundmark 2003). Bringing multiple biologists, conservation partners, and educators together resulted in research ideas being shared, new collaborations, learning opportunities for students, and a batconservation outreach event for the general public. In conclusion, we maintain that the benefits of conducting an inventory of this type far outweigh the limitations, as long as the goals are clear and data collected are relevant to monitoring and management objectives. Acknowledgments We would like to thank Sheryl Bryan, Sue Cameron, Ed Corey, Marshall Ellis, Ben Hess, Susan McBean, David McFee, Steve Mitchell, Gary Peeples, Andy Pyle, and Christopher Williams for their assistance with the 2011 SBDN Bat Blitz. Thanks to Sybill Amelon, Jackie Belwood, Dottie Brown, Timothy Carter, Mary Frazer, Lisa Gatens, Gary Libby, Katrina Morris, Joy O’Keefe, Merrill Tawse, and Eric Winters for acting as survey-team leaders. We would like to thank the numerous volunteers for their efforts and contributions to field surveys. Thank you to the staff at B.H. Corpening Training Center for serving as the Southeastern Naturalist G.J. Graeter, C.A. Diggins, K.C. Weeks, and M.K. Clark 2015 Vol. 14, No. 1 104 headquarters and lodging site for the inventory. Funding and resources for the 2011 SBDN Bat Blitz were provided by the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeastern Bat Diversity Network, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. 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