In North America, bat research efforts largely have focused on summer maternity colonies and winter hibernacula, leaving the immediate pre- and post-hibernation ecology for many species unstudied. Understanding these patterns and processes is critical for addressing potential additive impacts to White-nose Syndrome (WNS)-affected bats, as autumn is a time of vital weight gain and fat resources are largely depleted in early spring in surviving individuals. Our study sought to examine autumn and spring bat activity patterns in the central Appalachian Mountains around three hibernacula to better understand spatio-temporal patterns during staging for hibernation and post-hibernation migration in the post-WNS environment. From early September through November 2015 and 2016, and from early March through April 2016 and 2017, we assessed the effects of distance to hibernacula and ambient conditions on nightly bat activity for Myotis
spp. and big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus
) using zero-crossing frequency division bat detectors near cave entrances and 1 km, 2 km, and 3 km distant from caves. Following identification of echolocation calls, we used generalized linear mixed effects models to examine patterns of activity across the landscape over time and relative to weather. Overall bat activity was low at all sample sites during autumn and spring periods except at sites closest to hibernacula. Best-supported models describing bat activity varied, but date and ambient temperatures generally appeared to be major drivers of activity in both seasons. Total activity for all species had largely ceased by mid-November. Spring bat activity was variable across the sampling season, however, some activity was observed as early as mid-March, almost a month earlier than the historically accepted emergence time regionally. Current timing of restrictions on forest management activities that potentially remove day-roosts near hibernacula when bats are active on the landscape may be mismatched with actual spring post-hibernation emergence. Adjustments to the timing of these restrictions during the spring may help to avoid potentially additive negative impacts on WNS-impacted bat species.
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