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New Record of Northern Long-eared Bats in Coastal South Carolina
Timothy M. White, James E.Walea, and Jason Robinson

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 17, Issue 1 (2018): N1–N5

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N1 2018 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 17, No. 1 T.M. White, J.E.Walea, and J. Robinson New Record of Northern Long-eared Bats in Coastal South Carolina Timothy M. White1,*, James E.Walea1, and Jason Robinson2 Abstract - Myotis septentrionalis (Northern Long-eared Bat) is widely distributed in North America, from the Appalachians to the Maritime Provinces and west to British Columbia. In November 2016, we captured 2 non-reproductive Northern Long-eared Bats, 1 female and 1 male, in nets set in Beaufort County, coastal South Carolina. Previous records for the species indicate its nearest breeding colonies are >350 km away, and it had not been documented in South Carolina outside the Blue Ridge region. Although the Northern Long-eared Bat is known to move between summer roosts and winter hibernacula, it is not considered a long-distance migrant. Our records potentially represent an unrecognized coastal population rather than stray individuals. Such a population may be important for the survival of the species, which has been severely impacted elsewhere in its range by white-nose syndrome, a disease that is caused by the introduced fungal pathogen, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which has not yet been recorded in coastal South Carolina. Introduction. Myotis septentrionalis (Trouessart) (Northern Long-eared Bat), is found across North America, from the Appalachians to the Maritime Provinces and west to British Columbia (Caceres and Barclay 2000). Once considered abundant over most of its range, the Northern Long-eared Bat was commonly found across much of the northern half of North America. Like other North American cave-hibernating bats, it is at particular risk of extinction due to the emergence of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a lethal cutaneous disease caused by the Old World fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Blehart and Gargas) Minnis and D.L. Lindner (Frick et al. 2015). WNS was first discovered in 2006 in populations of Myotis lucifugus (LeConte) (Little Brown Bat) in Howe Cave in New York. By 2009, when P. destructans was formally described as the causative agent of WNS, it had been recognized in 3 other species of Myotis, including Northern Long-eared Bat (Gargas et al. 2009). Since its discovery in North America, WNS has spread to encompass most of the range of the Northern Long-eared Bat. Unlike a host-dependent pathogen, P. destructans is able to persist in the environment in the absence of infected bats, suggesting that it may remain a threat even if its hosts die. Thus, the disease may not only lead to the decimation or elimination of vulnerable bat populations in many hibernacula (Frick et al. 2015), but may also reappear if affected areas are repopulated. Due primarily to the spread of WNS, the Northern Long-eared Bat is now listed as federally threatened (Hyun 2016). As both its scientific and common names imply (septentrionalis = of the north), the Northern Long-eared Bat is considered by most sources to be restricted to northern regions, and it is not known to occur in South Carolina outside the Blue Ridge region (Menzel et al. 2003). Rather than migrating south during winter, Northern Long-eared Bats hibernate in caves, often with other bat species (Caceres and Barclay 2000). We report on 2 Northern Long-eared Bats captured at Palmetto Bluff in Beaufort County, SC, during November 2016. These captures represent unprecedented extralimital occurrences and may indicate previously undetected coastal populations. Whether these records denote a longstanding population or a recent range expansion is unclear, and the paucity of research involving 1Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, 15 Village Park Square, Bluffton, SC 29910. 2Biological Systems Consultants, Inc., PO Box 54594, Lexington, KY 40555. Corresponding author - timothy_white@ alumni.brown.edu. Manuscript Editor: Andrew Edelman Notes of the Southeastern Naturalist, Issue 17/1, 2018 2018 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 17, No. 1 N2 T.M. White, J.E.Walea, and J. Robinson trapping or acoustic monitoring of bats in the coastal Southeast gives little precedent from which to draw meaningful inference. Methods. From May 2016 to March 2017, we conducted mist netting at Palmetto Bluff, Beaufort County, SC. Palmetto Bluff is an area of maritime and Pinus (pine) forests, a large part of which is being developed as a residential and resort community. We set nets in undeveloped areas as well as tracts under conservation easement. We captured bats with 50-denier, 38-mm–mesh mist-nets measuring 2.6 m high and 6 m, 9 m, 12 m, and 18 m long. We placed nets in likely flyways in areas adjacent to wetlands, ponds, fields, and forest. We used multi-tier nets in some locations, stacking 2 or 3 of the 2.6-m nets for a total of 5.2 m or 7.8 m height, respectively. We deployed nets for a minimum of 3 h after sunset on each netting night. Northern Long-eared Bat was an unexpected find in the area; thus, we collected and sent hair and fecal samples to the Species from Feces program at the Bat Ecology and Genetics Lab at the School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ. We recorded weight, length measurements, sex, and age, the latter of which we determined by examining the level of epiphyseal joint fusion. We banded both bats on the forearm with numbered metal bands before releasing them. Results. We captured the 2 Northern Long-eared Bats at the same location (32°10'59''N, 80°53'30''W), in the River Road Preserve, a 59-ha tract that is protected by a conservation easement and owned by the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, Palmetto Bluff, SC, in November 2016. The site at which we captured both bats is a mixed pine–hardwood ecosystem immediately adjacent to tidal saltmarsh and within 250 m of an artificial freshwater pond. Forest composition is characteristic of regenerating maritime forest in the coastal Southeast, dominated by Quercus virginiana Mill. (Southern Live Oak), Sabal palmetto (Walter) Lodd. Ex Schult.&Schult.f. (Cabbage Palmetto), and Pinus taeda L. (Loblolly Pine), with an open understory that contained scattered stands of Serenoa repens (W. Bartram) Small (Saw Palmetto). We captured the bats on 3 and 14 November 2016. We present the data collected for each bat in Table 1. The identification of the first specimen as a Northern Long-eared Bat was confirmed by Sanger DNA sequencing (F. Walker, Bat Ecology and Genetics Lab, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ). We were unable to genetically confirm species identification of the second bat from fur and fecal samples because of small sample-volume; however, in light of the DNA-confirmed identification of the first individual, it is unlikely that we misidentified the second bat. Discussion. Menzel et al. (2003) reported 7 museum specimens and 69 capture records of Northern Long-eared Bats in South Carolina, all from the Blue Ridge region of the southern Appalachians, an area where WNS is endemic. Scattered records from the North Carolina Coastal Plain (Morris et al. 2009) and from central Louisiana (Crnkovic 2003) were unexpected occurrences, although in both cases the number of individuals and the reproductive status suggested the potential presence of breeding colonies. Although an abnormal weather Table 1. Capture and measurement data from 2 Northern Long-eared Bats caught at Palmetto Bluff, SC. Bat 1 Bat 2 Date of capture 3 Nov 2016 14 Nov 2016 Time after sunset 75 min 50 min Sex Female Male Age Adult First-year adult Weight 7.5 g 6 g Forearm length 39 mm 34 mm Reproductive status Non-reproductive Non-reproductive N3 2018 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 17, No. 1 T.M. White, J.E.Walea, and J. Robinson event from the north or west could be responsible for driving small numbers of bats far from their normal range, there were no such events in the weeks preceding our captures. A map showing the locations of previous records and known hibernacula is provided in Figure 1. Northern Long-eared Bat hibernacula are typically located in caves or mines (Menzel et al. 2003), which are non-existent in the coastal plains of South Carolina and Georgia (Culver et al. 1999). The nearest geological formations to our site that might contain cavelike hibernacula are limestone sinks near Santee, ~140 km to the north (Malde 1959) and scattered limestone outcroppings on the upper Savannah River, more than 150 km to the northwest (Cooke 1936). Both of these locations are outside the typical seasonal ranges of Northern Long-eared Bats (Caceres and Barclay 2000). Thus, it seems likely that either the bats were hibernating in human-made sites—a behavior that has been occasionally documented (Menzel et al. 2003)—or are surviving the winter by roosting in trees rather than hibernating in caves. Either situation would represent a notable divergence from previously identified typical winter behaviors. Whether our findings represent overlooked breeding colonies or recent range expansions is unclear; however, Barbour and Davis (1969) characterized Northern Long-eared Bats as a non-migratory or only locally migratory species, indicating that long-distance strays are unlikely. Arnold (2007) tentatively concluded that Figure 1. Counties in gray represent documented records of Northern Long-eared Bats (Myotis septentrionalis) in Georgia (GA), South Carolina (SC), and North Carolina(NC) (GADNR 2017, Menzel et al. 2003, NCDPR 2017, USFWS 2017). Counties marked with a black dot contain known hibernacula (J. Kindel, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Union, SC, unpubl. data; K. Caldwell, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Asheville, NC, unpubl. data; K. Morris, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Atlanta, GA, unpubl. data). Beaufort County, where 2 Northern Long-eared Bats in this study were captured, is marked in darker gray. 2018 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 17, No. 1 N4 T.M. White, J.E.Walea, and J. Robinson Northern Long-eared Bats display high breeding-site fidelity, suggesting that reproducing coastal populations may persist in subsequent seasons. P. destructans is an obligate psychrophilic pathogen; thus, it infects only hibernating bats whose body temperature is reduced to below 20 °C during torpor (Frick et al. 2015). Although no populations of Northern Long-eared Bats have yet been reported to survive winters without hibernating, Weller et al. (2009), suggested that bats may have the behavioral fluidity to change their hibernation habits to compensate for rising temperatures. Additionally, Grider et al. (2016) report that bat-foraging activity continued year-round in the coastal plain of North Carolina, and that Northern Long-eared Bats were among those active in the winter months. The area around the capture site averages a nightly minimum of 4 °C in January (NESDIS 2017), which is significantly higher than the mean nightly minimum of 1.5 °C reported by Grider et al. (2016), in North Carolina. These warmer temperatures may lead to higher levels of insect activity. Although we cannot rule out the possibility that the bats we captured do hibernate, the lack of suitable natural hibernation sites and the warm winter temperatures suggest that they may be active year-round. The discovery of non-hibernating populations of Northern Long-eared Bats would be particularly important from a conservation standpoint because they may be less susceptible to WNS, which is most virulent during low-temperature torpor. As of 2015, WNS has not been detected in the coastal plain of North Carolina or South Carolina (Frick et al. 2015), and Northern Longeared Bats in these regions may present a rare opportunity to protect uninfected populations of the species. Acknowledgments. We thank Mary Bunch, Katherine Caldwell, Jennifer Kindel, Susan Loeb, Katrina Morris, Mary Socci, Justin Hardy, Shane Rahn, Brittany Hall, Tom Wilson, and Sam Freeze for their assistance. We extend special appreciation to Dallas Wood and Crescent Communities for their support of research and conservation at Palmetto Bluff. Funding for the project was provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grant Program through the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Matching funds were provided by the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy. Literature Cited Arnold, B.D. 2007. Population structure and sex-biased dispersal in the forest-dwelling vespertilionid bat Myotis septentrionalis. American Midland Naturalist 157(2):374–384. Barbour, R.W., and W.H. Davis. 1969. Bats of America. The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, KY. 286 pp. Caceres, M.C., and R.M.R. Barclay. 2000. Myotis septentrionalis. Mammalian Species 634:1–4. Cooke, C.W. 1936. Geology of the Coastal Plain of South Carolina. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. 218 pp. Crnkovic, A.C. 2003. Discovery of Northern Long-eared Myotis, Myotis septentrionalis (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae), in Louisiana. Southwestern Naturalist 48(4):715–717. Culver, D.C., H.H. Hobbs III, M.C. Christman, and L.L. Master. 1999. Distribution map of caves and cave animals in the United States. Journal of Cave and Karst Studies 61(3):139–140. Frick, W.F., S.J. Puechmaille, and C.K.R. Willis. 2015. White-nose syndrome in bats. Pp. 245–262, In C. Voigt and T. Kingston (Eds). Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World. Springer International Publishing, Cham, Switzerland. 606 pp. Gargas, A., M.T. Trest, M. Christensen, T.J. Volk, and D.S. Blehert. 2009. Geomyces destructans sp. nov. associated with bat white-nose syndrome. Mycotaxon 108:147–154. Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR). 2017. Georgia rare natural elements data portal. Myotis septentrionalis. Available online at http://gakrakow.github.io/natels/range_maps2. html?es_id=17848. Accessed 9 October 2017. Grider, J.F., A.L. Larsen, J.A. Homyack, and M.C. Kalcounis-Rueppell. 2016. Winter activity of coastal plain populations of bat species affected by white-nose syndrome and wind energy facilities. PLoS ONE 11:1–14. N5 2018 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 17, No. 1 T.M. White, J.E.Walea, and J. Robinson Hyun, K.H. 2016. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; 4(d) rule for the Northern Long-eared Bat. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior. Federal Register 81(9):1900–1922. Malde, H.E. 1959. Geology of the Charleston Phosphate Area. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. 118 pp. Menzel, J.M., M.A. Menzel, W.M. Ford, J.W. Edwards, S.R. Sheffield, J.C. Kilgo, and M.S. Bunch. 2003. The distribution of the bats of South Carolina. Southeastern Naturalist 2(1):121–152. Morris, A.D., M.J. Vonhof, D.A. Miller, and M.C. Kalcounis-Rueppell. 2009. Myotis septentrionalis Trouessart (Northern Long-eared Bat) records from the coastal plain of North Carolina. Southeastern Naturalist 8(2):355–362. National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). 2017. Summary of monthly normals 1981–2010. Available online at https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/. Accessed 4 October 2017. North Carolina Department of Parks and Recreation (NCDPR). 2017. Mammals of North Carolina. Available online at http://www.dpr.ncparks.gov/mammals/view.php?id=28. Accessed 9 October 2017. US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2017. Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office. Online Project Reviews: The Northern Long-eared Bat. Available online at https://www.fws.gov/raleigh/ NLEB_RFO.html. Accessed 9 October 2017. Weller, T.J., P.M. Cryan, and T.J. O’Shea. 2009. Broadening the focus of bat conservation and research in the USA for the 21st century. Endangered Species Research 8(1–2):129–145.