Bats are diverse and abundant in many ecosystems worldwide. They perform important ecosystem functions, particularly by consuming large quantities of insects (Cleveland and others, 2006; Jones and others, 2009; Kuhn and others, 2011). The importance of bats to biodiversity and to ecosystem integrity has been overlooked in many regions, largely because the challenges of detecting and studying these small, nocturnal mammals have rendered a paucity of information on matters as basic as species distribution and natural history attributes. Recently, concern for bats has arisen in response to recognition of large-scale threats, such as white-nosed syndrome (WNS; Turner and others, 2009; Frick and others, 2010) and mortality at wind energy facilities (Arnett and others, 2008), factors that are causing unprecedented population declines of bats (Boyles and others, 2011). WNS is a fungal disease that has killed more than 1 million cave-hibernating bats in eastern North America since being discovered in New York State in 2006 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2012). WNS has spread rapidly from northeastern U.S., and as of August 2012 has been confirmed as far west as eastern Missouri(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013). Given the rapid spread of WNS, there is concern that the disease may soon affect western bat populations.
Hibernating bats are particularly vulnerable to the effects of WNS (Blehert and others, 2009). Refuges in eastern Washington, including the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex (MCRNWRC) and Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, support many potential hibernacula. Sixteen species of bats potentially occur on these refuges, including one federally listed species of concern (Townsend’s big-eared bat [Corynorhinus townsendii]; see table 1 for scientific names of bats), and 12 species that are of conservation concern in Washington and Oregon (table 1). However, little is known about bats on these refuges because few surveys have been done, and none have been done during winter. Refuge biologists are lacking even the most basic information, such as species presence, and location and status of hibernacula. In order to assess vulnerability and develop a strategy for management of WNS, refuge managers need to know where bats are hibernating, and which species are using each hibernaculum. The goal of this project was to provide information on the status of wintering bats to refuge biologists and managers in order to support decision-making that might minimize the threat of WNS in western bat populations. We conducted surveys of bat activity in winter and early spring as an initial step toward identifying bat species that may be over-wintering and locating potential hibernacula on these refuges. Our specific objectives were to identify bat species using the refuges, to identify areas of resident bat activity in autumn, winter, and early spring using acoustic bat detectors, and to try new methods for quick surveys of bat activity.