Creating habitats is what wildlife managers do, but when it comes to bats, a little more creativity is required. In Wilson County, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency crews are erecting artificial trees to mimic the summer roosting habitat of the endangered Indiana bat.
Indiana bat numbers have been greatly impacted by Whitenose Syndrome in recent years. Winter bat counts indicate a loss of up to 80% of the population in areas of the state.
For the past several springs, researchers have tracked Indiana bats migrating from their winter hibernaculum on the Cumberland Plateau to different states and to farms located in Wilson County.
The preferred summer habitat for the Indiana bat consists of dead trees with large, loose sections of bark. Maternity colonies of up to 70 Indiana bats have been documented in the voids created by the loose bark of these old dead trees. Often these trees, important for pup rearing, fall during the winters leaving the already stressed Indiana bat to expend energy searching for a new summer home.
"Bats go into hibernation with a limited amount of fat store to sustain them through the winter, so when they emerge in the spring they need to feed and find a summer roost," said TWRA Region II Biodiversity Coordinator Josh Campbell. "Dead snags that are the preferred habitat for the Indiana bat, those trees often fall during the winter months leaving the bats to have to search for a new home, expending energy that they can't spare."
Working with local landowners, the TWRA crews installed nine untreated telephone poles outfitted with a specially designed wrap that will mimic loose bark. These artificial trees will last longer on the landscape and provide the Indiana bat a more sustained, accessible habitat to establish maternity colonies.
"For whatever, Wilson County appears to be a pretty significant roosting area for the Indiana bat," said Campbell, "and the goal is to provide as much sustainable habitat as possible for female Indiana bats to have and raise their young."
TWRA biologists will be monitoring the area this coming spring and expect the bats will return to the area and utilize the new artificial bat habitat.