Forecasting the distribution of a range-expanding bat reveals future response to climate change and habitat
Many terrestrial vertebrate species are exhibiting geographic distribution changes including poleward range limit shifts in response to increases in regional temperature. Bats are a highly mobile taxa capable of rapid responses to changes in abiotic or biotic conditions. In North America, recent extralimital records of the non-hibernating Lasiurus seminolus (Seminole bat) have been attributed to climate change, however such attributions remain speculative and potentially subject to sampling bias in the form of increased recent sampling efforts at latitudes north of the historical range. We used historical occurrence records and simple environmental variables within a Maxent modeling framework to model the historical distribution of suitable areas for this species. We transferred the model using near current environmental conditions and measured the ability of the model to capture the apparent expansion in distribution using recent extralimital occurrence records. Our model transferred well over time concluding that the distribution expansion may be largely attributed to increasing minimum temperatures. We used the model to forecast the expansion in distribution of suitable areas at three 20-year intervals and various climate change scenarios and provide extrapolation risk maps for each scenario. Although increasing temperatures may increase potentially occupiable areas, the species is associated with forests and often roosts in pines (Pinus spp.). This suitable habitat is more limited to the northwest of the species' range, which may constrain the future species expansion despite favorable temperatures. We demonstrated this effect by mapping limiting factors through future climate change scenarios. We discovered a broad shift of effects that constrained the distribution from minimum temperature to an abundance metric of evergreen cover type as time and climate change intensity increased. Although uncertainties exist, we predict further expansion of the Seminole bat widely over the next 60 years across the eastern United States where suitable habitat and climate conditions converge. Our results appear consistent with other bat species showing similar range extensions and in turn provide further evidence that bats may serve as bioindicators of global change.