Community structure, ecomorphology, resource partitioning, diet : implications for conservation of a forest-dwelling bat community.
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Debelica, Anica, 1975-
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Bat communities in southeastern pine forests in Texas are not well studied. However, as bat populations throughout the United States are facing increasing mortality rates due to habitat loss, wind turbine impacts, and white nose syndrome, forest managers are in need of good conservation plans. In this study, I provided some of the information necessary to guide the conservation plan developers in the right direction. I conducted netting surveys at two sites in Sam Houston National Forest, Texas, during summers 2009 - 2011. I captured a total of 382 bats belonging to 8 species: big brown, eastern red, evening, hoary, Mexican free-tailed, Seminole, southeastern bat, and tri-colored bats. I discovered that at least three of these species (big brown, evening, and Seminole bat) exhibit extended seasonal monoestry with parturition and lactation starting earlier and ending later than previously believed. By examining ecomorphology of captured bats, I found that the bat community assemblage (species present and their proportions in community) is impacted by management practices. Annual burns, clearcutting, and planting of pine plantations are altering habitat and changing clutter levels in the forest, thus managed areas of the forest are made available to higher numbers of clutter-intolerant bat species, while unmanaged areas are restricted to a lower number of species, the ones that are clutter-tolerant. Furthermore, I found that bats at the two sites are exhibiting some temporal partitioning, but that the species involved in this partitioning change on yearly bases and that this partitioning is not linked to food availability. Finally, I employed a new generation sequencing technique (pyrosequencing) to determine the diet of the tri-colored bat. Using this method, I identified prey items belonging to 3 orders and 50 species in a single fecal pellet showing that bats might be more opportunistic eaters at the species than ordinal level. This dissertation provides until now unknown information about the bat community in the southeastern pine forests of Texas on which new studies can build in an effort to construct appropriate conservation plans and preserve bat diversity in the Coastal Plains bioregion.