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Indiana Bats of the Northeast
A multi-state and federal agency initiative with results
by Scott Darling
Photo Credit: USFWS
When I reflect upon how much we have learned about Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) in Vermont, it is almost unimaginable that before 2001 I would drive through the Lake Champlain Valley not knowing that this rich agricultural area was also home to this endangered species. That year, however, a multi-state and federal agency research initiative tracked 19 radio transmittered female Indiana bats as they emerged from an upstate New York mine and migrated directly across Lake Champlain and onto the valley floor of Vermont. Within six years, the entire summer range of Indiana bats in Vermont was identified with approximately 25 percent of the species' maternity colonies located on the ground. Although we didn't know it at the time, this information would become vital for protecting and conserving Indiana bats and their key habitat when White-nose syndrome entered the picture years later.
Immediately following our finding that Vermont's Champlain Valley was important habitat for Indiana bats, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) funds were used to survey the valley for maternity colonies—congregations of female bats that give birth to and raise their young. An arduous 174 long nights of mist-netting bats over six years yielded a capture of 54 Indiana bats, 32 of which were fitted with miniature radio transmitters which would lead biologists to the very trees within which the maternity colonies roost. Furthermore, by evaluating the habitat conditions of roost trees (colonies typically used as many as 15 different trees to roost), biologists developed a model that could predict likely locations of other Indiana bat maternity colonies in the Champlain Valley.
Because Indiana bat maternity colonies depend primarily on dead and dying trees within which to roost, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department developed voluntary forest management guidelines to help landowners and foresters identify and manage for these important habitat features. These guidelines now inform forest management decisions by state and private foresters, utilities managing transmission lines, and federal land management cost-share programs. Even though Indiana bat populations have since been impacted by the dreaded White-nose Syndrome, Vermonters continue to maintain the habitat that will be needed to recover this species.
Public interest in bats was high, even before White-nose Syndrome raised Vermonters' awareness of the critical state of bats in the Northeast. Public involvement in our Indiana bat research ranged from attending speaking engagements to observing mist-netting surveys to "on the ground" monitoring of roost trees by counting the emerging bats as they depart at dusk. Public interest in Indiana bats has been easily transformed into concern for all bat species affected by White-nose Syndrome.
None of this progress toward the recovery of Indiana bats in Vermont would have happened without the close working relationship among nearby state fish and wildlife agencies and the Service. Various agencies sharing a common purpose fueled by dedicated professionals are the engine behind this success story.
Given the devastating impact of White-nose Syndrome on all of our hibernating bats, the information we originally collected has become essential baseline information upon which to set recovery goals and to develop the conservation tools that will be needed to help this species recover from this new and deadly threat.
Scott Darling, a wildlife biologist for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, can be reached at email@example.com or 802-786-3862.
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