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Artificial Bark: Can it Help Arkansas's Bats?

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, March 29, 2019

by Sarah Martin

Bats are an important part of our nation’s ecosystems, and provide significant pest control for American farmers. However, there is growing concern regarding the threats to North American bat populations from white-nose syndrome (WNS), climate change, wind energy development, and habitat loss (Ingersoll, T.E., Sewall, B.J. and S.K. Amelon. 2016. Effects of white-nose syndrome on regional population patterns of 3 hibernating bat species. Conservation Biology. 30:1048-1059).

Sarah Martin, a graduate student in biology at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), is researching the feasibility of using artificial, discrete bat habitat structures to augment roost choices for Arkansas’s tree-inhabiting bats. Currently, no research has been conducted in Arkansas as to whether native bats will utilize this artificial bark, called BrandenBark™, for potential colony roosts.

Created by Copperhead Environmental Consulting, BrandenBark™ was made with the intent to help mitigate habitat loss for bark roosting bat species, such as the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) [Adams, J., Roby, P., Sewell, P., Schwierjohann, J., Gumbert, M., and M. Brandenburg. 2015. Success of BrandenBark™, an artificial roost structure designed for use by Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis). JASMR 4: 1-15]. BrandenBark™ is made of a synthetic material that is installed over a grid-like surface, mimicking loose or exfoliating tree bark, and attached to a wooden structure. Several imperiled bat species roost within the loosening bark of dead or dying trees, though they sometimes use naturally loose bark of live, mature trees like shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). These roost resources are relatively temporary and typically occur in older forests where there is a large source of future dead or dying trees. A variety of general land clearing activities can reduce the frequency and thus availability of these roost resources for bats; BrandenBark™ may provide an opportunity to offset many of these losses and research is underway to determine its effectiveness.

In Martin's study, the BrandenBark™ material was attached to 20-foot high wooden utility poles donated by the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) and constructed in April 2018. The habitats have been installed at four sites located in Carroll, Marion, Pope, and Greene counties, including sites at a natural area, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) preserve, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and private property. The BrandenBark™ habitats will be observed year-round for bat occupancy.

Surveys will be conducted weekly to bi-weekly at each site to record passive and active acoustical data. The ANHC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have provided Anabat passive recording devices for use in the study. UCA has provided active acoustic recorders that attach to Android or iPhone devices. Data collection began April 1, 2018 and will conclude on April 1, 2020.

DNA analysis of bat feces collected bi-weekly at the base of the utility poles will help determine which bat species are using the habitats. More specifically, researchers are looking for evidence of the federally listed Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and the Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis).

In addition to the partners already mentioned, the study organizers would like to thank the White family, U.S. Forest Service, Copperhead Environmental Consulting, Arkansas Academy of Science, and Northern Arizona University.


Top left -- A little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) roosting in the loose bark of a tree. Photo by Mark Graham, National Park Service.

Above left -- One of the study's BradenBark™ poles, installed at a TNC preserve in Carroll County. Photo by Sarah Martin.

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