Habitat use by forest bats in South Carolina in relation to local, stand, and landscape characteristics
Knowledge and understanding of bat habitat associations and the responses of bats to forest management are critical for effective bat conservation and management. Few studies have been conducted on bat habitat use in the southeast, despite the high number of endangered and sensitive species in the region. Our objective was to identify important local, stand, and landscape factors influencing bat habitat use in northwestern South Carolina, USA. We hypothesized that use would be greatest 1) at points with relatively sparse vegetation, 2) in early successional and mature stands, and 3) at points close to streams. We also predicted that species would exhibit different patterns of habitat use based on morphology. We placed Anabat II bat detectors at points located in 3 forest types and 3 age classes to record bats from May–August 2004 and 2005. We used an information theoretic approach to determine the variables that best predicted use by bats. Vegetation density at the sample point was the best predictor of overall bat presence in 2004. In 2005 vegetation density and distance to the closest road were the best predictors of overall bat use; the model containing age class also had good support. Bats were more likely to be recorded at points with sparse vegetation, farther from roads, and in early successional stands. Vegetation density was also the best predictor of habitat use by big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) and red bats (Lasiurus borealis); both species were far more likely to be recorded at points with sparse vegetation at the sample point. Eastern pipistrelles (Pipistrellus subflavus) were also more likely to be recorded at points with sparse vegetation and in early successional stands. The best predictors of northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) habitat use were vegetation density and age class. Northern long-eared bats were more likely to be recorded at points with sparse vegetation and in mature stands. Our results suggest that early successional habitats and small openings and gaps within forest stands provide suitable commuting and foraging bat habitat in northwestern South Carolina. However, mature forests are also important for some species. Forest management practices that provide a variety of age classes across the landscape and that create gaps and openings within mid- and late-successional stands will likely provide suitable habitat for bats in the mountains of South Carolina.