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Forest Disturbance Processes

Protecting Habitat for Bats in the Face of Development Pressure

California myotis (Myotis californicus) Photo Credit:  Norman Barrett, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, https://www.fs.fed.us/photovideo/Research Issue

Most bats in temperate climates have a strategy for survival where part of the time is spent foraging for food and water, while the remaining time (daytime in summer, or for extended periods in winter) is spent in roosts.  Some species are suffering population declines and are vulnerable to habitat loss associated with urban development.  One strategy to mitigate the problem is to protect areas that provide bat habitat by outright purchases or by acquiring conservation easements on areas before they fall victim to development.  Guidance is needed to help organizations prioritize areas for habitat protection where development pressure is high.

Our Research

A Northern Research Station scientist and university partner developed a new modeling framework for selecting habitat reserves that wildlife populations need for food, shelter, and reproduction.  The model determines whether minimum areas of land with desired habitat features are present within the desired spatial conditions in the protected reserves and provides a way to select sets of land parcels that satisfy these habitat requirements at minimum cost.  The mechanics and the flexibility of the modeling framework are demonstrated in a case study of Myotis bat conservation on Lopez Island, located in the San Juan Archipelago in northwestern Washington State.  Lopez Island is heavily forested, and conversion of forest lands to home sites is a serious concern because of the island’s proximity to the Seattle metropolitan area.  The model captures habitat requirements that are critical for Myotis persistence, including potential roosting sites and nearby foraging areas.  Myotis bats feed mainly on insects and prefer to forage over water sources, within forest openings, or among shrubs within 500m of their roosting site.  The model identified the land parcels that can be purchased under a given conservation budget to protect the greatest number of Myotis roost sites and associated water sources and foraging habitat.  Further, the model helped quantify the gains, in terms of additional roost sites protected, for incremental increases in the conservation budget. 

Expected Outcomes

Conservation planners make land use and management decisions to account for the factors that affect the long-term viability of populations, including the amount, quality, and spatial arrangement of habitat features that species need to persist.  The modeling framework developed here will help planners select sites for protection at lowest possible cost while meeting all of the habitat requirements for a given species. 

Research Results

Burns, Eileen S.; Toth, Sandor F.; Haight, Robert G. 2013. A modeling framework for life history-based conservation planning. Biological Conservation. 158: 14-25.

Research Participants

    • Eileen S. Burns, School of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
    • Robert G. Haight, Research Forester, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station
    • Sándor F. Tóth, School of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Last Modified: April 11, 2013