Northern Long-eared Bats in the Central Appalachians Following White-nose Syndrome: Failed Maternity Colonies?

Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) populations have experienced severe declines in eastern North America from white-nose syndrome (WNS), yet potential secondary effects on maternity roosting and recruitment remain largely unknown. We documented female day- roosting at two locations in the central Appalachians of Virginia, Back Creek Mountain (BCM) and Rapidan Camp (RC), during 2015 and 2016, ap- proximately six years after the regional onset of WNS. We compared roost characteristics with available trees and roosts recorded prior to WNS at the Fernow Experimental Forest (FEF), West Virginia, in 2007 and 2008. Roosts at BCM were smaller than pre-WNS roosts but were otherwise similar in terms of stand condition and species use, though bats selected for red maple (Acer rubrum) at BCM rather than black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) as at FEF. At RC, bats roosted almost exclusively in large eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) snags (dbh x¯ = 50.13 cm, SD = 23.1) with high solar exposure that had been killed by the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). The two observed strategies, selection of smaller, midstory trees at BCM and of dominant, exposed roosts at RC, correspond with pre-WNS observations of female northern long-eared bat roost use at similar sites. However, our re- sults suggest reliance on smaller roosts and canopy-dominant positions that better accommodate solitary individuals and small groups associated with smaller post-WNS colonies in terms of space and thermoregulatory benefits. Despite some observations of pregnant and lactating individuals, all three post-WNS colonies vacated roost networks in early June, and we observed no juveniles. Potential colony failure at BCM and RC is consistent with pre- dicted secondary physiological effects from WNS-induced population collapses, suggesting, if recruitment failed, northern long-eared bats may already be functionally extirpated in portions of the central Appalachians.

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