Assessing the status and trend of bat populations across broad geographic regions with dynamic distribution models

Ecological Applications
By: , and 

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Abstract

Bats face unprecedented threats from habitat loss, climate change, disease, and wind power development, and populations of many species are in decline. A better ability to quantify bat population status and trend is urgently needed in order to develop effective conservation strategies. We used a Bayesian autoregressive approach to develop dynamic distribution models for Myotis lucifugus, the little brown bat, across a large portion of northwestern USA, using a four-year detection history matrix obtained from a regional monitoring program. This widespread and abundant species has experienced precipitous local population declines in northeastern USA resulting from the novel disease white-nose syndrome, and is facing likely range-wide declines. Our models were temporally dynamic and accounted for imperfect detection. Drawing on species–energy theory, we included measures of net primary productivity (NPP) and forest cover in models, predicting that M. lucifugus occurrence probabilities would covary positively along those gradients.

Despite its common status, M. lucifugus was only detected during ∼50% of the surveys in occupied sample units. The overall naïve estimate for the proportion of the study region occupied by the species was 0.69, but after accounting for imperfect detection, this increased to ∼0.90. Our models provide evidence of an association between NPP and forest cover and M. lucifugus distribution, with implications for the projected effects of accelerated climate change in the region, which include net aridification as snowpack and stream flows decline. Annual turnover, the probability that an occupied sample unit was a newly occupied one, was estimated to be low (∼0.04–0.14), resulting in flat trend estimated with relatively high precision (SD = 0.04). We mapped the variation in predicted occurrence probabilities and corresponding prediction uncertainty along the productivity gradient. Our results provide a much needed baseline against which future anticipated declines in M. lucifugus occurrence can be measured. The dynamic distribution modeling approach has broad applicability to regional bat monitoring efforts now underway in several countries and we suggest ways to improve and expand our grid-based monitoring program to gain robust insights into bat population status and trend across large portions of North America.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Assessing the status and trend of bat populations across broad geographic regions with dynamic distribution models
Series title Ecological Applications
DOI 10.1890/11-1662.1
Volume 22
Issue 4
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Publisher location Tempe, AZ
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
First page 1098
Last page 1113
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N