Indiana Bats and Prescribed Fire

Findings from a Recent Workshop

Indiana bat in hibernacula. Photo by Andrew King, US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Indiana bat in hibernacula. Photo by Andrew King, US Fish & Wildlife Service, courtesy of Bugwood.org.

A two-day workshop held in western North Carolina provided research results to forest and natural resource managers concerned about maintaining summer habitat for the endangered Indiana bat. Attended by over 60 people from federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and a private consultant, the workshop focused on identifying summer maternity habitat for the species in the Southern Appalachians and possible effects of prescribed burning on that habitat.

The first day opened with research presentations about what is currently known about summer maternity roost habitat of Indiana bats in the Southern Appalachians versus other regions. Joy O’Keefe, director of the Center for Bat Research, Outreach, and Conservation at Indiana State University (ISU), shared information from studies in the Midwest showing that Indiana bats are quite flexible in choosing where they roost in the summer to produce their young, using live shagbark hickories, large dead cottonwoods, and bat boxes in riparian forests. In contrast, in the Southern Appalachians, primary roosts are found almost exclusively in large dead conifers—most often yellow pines—on the upper parts of south-facing slopes.    

Indiana bat up close. Photo by Rich Fields, courtesy of Bugwood.org.
Indiana bat up close. Photo by Rich Fields, courtesy of Bugwood.org.

The following speaker, Kristina Hammond, also from the ISU bat center, presented a landscape-scale model of current Indiana bat summer roosting habitat in the Nantahala National Forest, Cherokee National Forest, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, while cautioning that due to difficulties in monitoring bats in the Southern Appalachians, there is still a lot to be learned about the species use of habitat and seasonal movements in areas with large contiguous tracts of forest cover. The model Hammond presented fit well with known roosts and will soon be tested in other parts of the Southern Appalachians.

U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station research ecologist Susan Loeb presented recently published findings on the effects of current and future climates on Indiana bat distribution. Her findings, covered in more detail in a previous CompassLive article, indicate that because of projected rises in summer temperatures, the future maternity range for Indiana bat is forecast to be concentrated in the northeastern United States and along the Appalachian Mountains. For managers in the Southern Appalachians, this means that restoring pine-oak habitats and keeping large diameter pine snags will be critical for recovery of the species.

After lunch O’Keefe presented additional data that tie together effects of prescribed fire and snag availability on the landscape, prompting discussion about the timing of prescribed burning in relation to Indiana bat migration and maternity roosting. The first day closed with several presentations about fire history and the use of prescribed fire in the Southern Appalachians and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines for Indiana bat conservation.

On the second day of the workshop, participants visited some typical Indiana bat roost trees and mist-net sites as well as nearby plots where researchers are following the fates of snags and live trees in prescribed fire, and control sites to understand the effects of prescribed fire on Indiana bat roosts. 

The workshop was held April 16 and 17 at Fontana Village in North Carolina and sponsored by the Joint Fire Science Program, the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists, U.S. Forest Service, and Indiana State University.

For more information, email Susan Loeb at sloeb@fs.fed.us or Helen Mohr at hmohr@fs.fed.us.

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Receive weekly updates