Winter roosting ecology of tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) in trees and bridges
Tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) that roost in subterranean hibernacula have experienced precipitous declines from white-nose syndrome (WNS); however, understudied populations also use during winter non-subterranean roosts such as tree cavities, bridges, and foliage. Our objectives were to determine winter roost use by tricolored bats in an area devoid of subterranean roosts, determine roost microclimates to relate them to growth requirements of the fungal causal agent of WNS, and determine habitat factors influencing winter tree selection. From November to March 2017–2019, we used radiotelemetry to track 15 bats to their day roosts in the upper Coastal Plain of South Carolina and recorded microclimates in accessible tree cavities and bridges. We also characterized habitat and tree characteristics of 24 used trees and 153 random, available trees and used discrete choice models to determine selection. Roost structures included I-beam bridges, cavities in live trees, and foliage. Bridges were warmer and less humid than cavities. Roost temperatures often were amenable to fungal growth (< 19.5°C) but fluctuated widely depending on ambient temperatures. Bats used bridges on colder days (8.7°C ± 5.0 SD) and trees on warmer days (11.3°C ± 5.4). Bats selected low-decay trees closer to streams in areas with high canopy closure and cavity abundance. Bats also appeared to favor hardwood forests and avoid pine forests. Our results suggest that access to multiple roost microclimates might be important for tricolored bats during winter, and forest management practices that retain live trees near streams and foster cavity formation in hardwood forests likely will benefit this species. Our results also suggest tricolored bats using bridge and tree roosts might be less susceptible to WNS than bats using subterranean hibernaculum roosts. Thus, forests in areas without subterranean hibernacula in the southeastern United States that support bats during winter might represent important refugia from WNS for multiple species.