Habitat Use and Foraging Ecology of Bats in North Dakota
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Habitat use is a key component to understanding the conservation needs of species. While an array of quantitative analyses for studying fine-scale habitat use and selection have been developed, such methods have rarely been applied to bat species, with most work focused at a broad scale or using qualitative methods. Insectivorous bat communities face major threats from habitat conversion, exploitation of natural resources, and the impending spread of white-nose syndrome. Hence, detailed knowledge of their habitat needs is critical for developing effective management plans. In North Dakota, little was known about local bat populations prior to 2009, with essentially no knowledge of habitat associations and preferences of bat species. The overall objective of this research was to survey habitats across North Dakota to document species occurrences within key ecological regions and to assess the influence of fine-scale habitat characteristics on community diversity and foraging patterns. We further aimed to assess the foraging habitat selection of little brown bats, Myotis lucifugus, a species of conservation concern. Our specific objectives were to: 1) assess species’ occurrence and distributions within North Dakota; 2) assess the influence of habitat and the availability of water resources on species diversity and community-level foraging activity; 3) identify habitats associated with areas of high foraging activity; 4) identify indicator species that characterize key habitats; 5) assess foraging habitat selection of female M. lucifugus; 6) and assess individual variation in habitat selection of M. lucifugus. From 2009 to 2012, mist netting and acoustic surveys were conducted to document species occurrence at 68 sites. From 2012 to 2015, targeted acoustic surveys were conducted at 37 sites to assess foraging activity levels in variable habitats. In 2014 and 2015, data-logging telemetry receivers were used to assess foraging habitat selection of M. lucifugus. The presence of 11 species was confirmed in the state. We found that bat community diversity and foraging activity were influenced by fine-scale habitat characteristics. M. lucifugus selected for edge habitats and nearby water sources. These results will be valuable for the conservation and management of bats and provide baseline information for future research on habitat use of bats.