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Winter 2008


“The findings have important implications for managed forests...”




Different Beats for Different Bats

By Helen Fosgate

The Southeast is home to about 16 species of bats, all of which, being insect eaters, help keep pest populations in check. But some bat species are thought to be declining, though scientists say it’s difficult to know for sure.

“They’re small, they fly, and they come out only at night, which makes getting a handle on their numbers extremely difficult,” said Steven Castleberry, a UGA wildlife researcher. “And most bats do not associate with human structures. The vast majority prefer forests, which provide cavities and leaf litter for roosting and hibernation.”
To partially compensate for these impediments, researchers usually conduct their surveys in the summer, when bats are most active. But a new UGA study shows that seasonal research may not provide the most complete picture of bats’ behaviors.

bat“We found that Seminole bats, for example, change their entire survival strategy from summer to winter,” said Castleberry, an associate professor of wildlife ecology and management in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. He and his colleagues, who include Karl Miller, also a professor in the Warnell School and graduate student Chris Hein, confirmed that Seminole bats roost almost exclusively in the upper branches of tall pines during the summer. However, the team has documented for the first time that as the weather cools in fall, the bats tend to move to the lower branches of hardwood trees—and that on cold nights in winter they actually roost on the ground under leaf litter.

“These findings have important implications for managed forests, where prescribed burns are usually carried out in the winter months,” said Castleberry. “Bats roosting on or near the ground may not be able to escape the fire.”

The researchers, who conducted their study in South Carolina’s Coastal Plain, captured bats in mist nets set up over ponds as the animals flew low over water and dipped down to skim the surface for a drink. Once captured, researchers fitted the bats with tiny transmitters to track their movements.

Another of the team’s findings was that while Seminole bats shift strategies with the season, evening bats, which roost under bark and in tree cavities, employ the same strategy year-round: find a crack, crowd in, and hunker down!

“We found 50 or more female evening bats packed into just one small abandoned woodpecker cavity,” said Castleberry, laughing. “Their survival strategy seems to be the more the merrier.”

The research, parts of which were published in the September 2005 issue of Southeast Naturalist, was supported by Mead/Westvaco Forest Products Co. and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement.

For more information, contact Steven Castleberry at:


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