Forests for Bats

New booklet for landowners and managers

dead pine tree
Many bats roost in dead trees, underneath flaking pieces of bark. Photo by Alan Levine.

“Almost all North American bats rely on forests for survival,” says Roger Perry, USDA Forest Service research wildlife biologist.

Perry recently led the team that updated Forest Management and Bats, a booklet designed for private landowners and anyone managing forests. It was first published in 2006 by Bat Conservation International, and Daniel Taylor of BCI wrote the original version and contributed to the update. The updated publication is a 2020 product of the White-nose Syndrome National Plan.

When the booklet was first published, the terrible impacts of white-nose syndrome were still in the future. Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in the U.S. The updated publication includes the latest information on white-nose syndrome. It also includes recent research on how prescribed fire and forest management affect bats.

Forests offer bats what they need to survive – homes, food, and water. The booklet is organized around these three habitat needs.

Most bats prefer relatively open forests, where the midstory is not dense with small trees and shrubs.

“One of the best things forest landowners can do for bats is to thin the midstory of overly dense forest stands,” says Perry. “Most bats cannot forage very well in really dense, cluttered forests.” Prescribed fire and cutting small trees and shrubs can help create open forests.

National Forest System managers across the South are using these practices to restore open forests. Open forests were once common, but over the decades many forests have grown quite dense, due in part to fire suppression and an absence of active management.

Forests provide roosts, where bats sleep during the day. Bats can roost in very small spaces, like underneath a piece of loose bark. Dead and dying trees provide roosts for more than half of the 47 bat species in the U.S.

someone wearing gloves and holding a small bat
Evening bats are one of the ten species profiled in the booklet. Photo by Enwebb, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Just one tree can be a roost for many bats – for example, over 400 evening bats were once recorded underneath the bark of one dead pine tree. That single colony of bats would consume millions of insects in a summer. Evening bats feed heavily on spotted cucumber beetles, a costly pest that eats corn and vine plants. “Many bats eat nearly their own body weight in moths, beetles, and other insects every night,” says Perry.

When safe, leaving standing dead or dying trees can help bats. The booklet discusses how to identify roost trees, preserve them in a forest, and work safely around them. “Dozens of other wildlife species that depend on dead and dying trees will also benefit,” says Perry.

All southern bats need clean water daily. Bats drink while they fly, and may drink from ponds, streams, ephemeral wetlands, and even the ruts of a dirt road when water pools there. Water with cattails or other plants growing in it can be harder for bats to drink from. Bats also forage near waterways.

“Bats are primary predators of night-flying insects,” says Perry. “Bats are essential for maintaining forest health. Helping bats is a wise investment in our forests.”

In 2019, the White-nose Syndrome Response Team, which consists of state and federal researchers and managers from across the U.S. and Canada, decided the booklet should be updated. In addition to Taylor and Perry, Darren Miller of the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement and Mark Ford of the U.S. Geological Survey also contributed to the booklet.

Read the full text of Forest Management and Bats.

For more information, email Roger Perry at roger.perry@usda.gov.

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.

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