Variation in regional and landscape effects on occupancy of temperate bats in the southeastern U.S.

Benjamin D. Neece
Susan C. Loeb

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Habitat loss, wind energy development, and the disease white-nose syndrome are major threats contributing to declines in bat populations in North America. In the southeastern US in particular, the recent arrival of white-nose syndrome and changes in landscape composition and configuration have driven shifts in bat species populations and distributions. Effective management strategies which address these large-scale, community-level threats require landscape-scale analyses. Our objective was to model the relationship between ecoregional and landscape factors and occupancy by all bat species in South Carolina, USA, during summer. We conducted acoustic surveys from mid-May through July 2015 and 2016 and evaluated temporally dynamic occupancy models for eight bat species or species groups at the 100 km2 level. We found significant effects of landscape factors such as ecoregion and forest edge density for three species, but habitat condition effects were not statistically significant for five other species. Thus, for some species, site-use analyses may be more appropriate than larger scale occupancy analyses. However, our occupancy predictions generally matched statewide historical distributions for all species, suggesting our approach could be useful for monitoring landscape-level trends in bat species. Thus, while our scale of study was likely too coarse for assessing fine-scale habitat associations for all bat species, our findings can improve future monitoring efforts, inform conservation priorities, and guide subsequent landscape-scale studies for bat species and community-level responses to global change.