Following decades of fire suppression in eastern forests, prescribed fire as a tool to restore or enhance oak (Quercus spp.)-dominated communities is gaining widespread acceptance in the Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere. However, the interactions of fire with biotic components such as wildlife that might be impacted by prescribed fire are poorly documented. For tree-roosting bats, fire can enhance roosting habitat by creating snags and increasing solar radiation at existing roosts. In 2007 and 2008, we examined roost selection of forest-interior dwelling northern myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) maternity colonies in stands treated with prescribed fire (hereafter, fire) and in unburned (hereafter, control) stands on the Fernow Experimental Forest, West Virginia. Using radio telemetry, we tracked 36 female northern myotis to 69 roost trees; 25 in the fire treatment and 44 in the control treatment. Using logistic regression and an information-theoretic model selection approach, we determined that within the fire treatment, northern myotis maternity colonies were more likely to use cavity trees that were smaller in diameter, higher in crown class, and located in stands with lower basal area, gentler slopes, and higher percentage of fire-killed stems than random trees. Moreover, roosts often were surrounded by trees that were in the upper crown classes. In the control treatment, northern myotis were more likely to roost nearer the tops of larger diameter cavity trees in early stages of decay that were surrounded by decaying trees in the upper crown classes than random trees. Roost trees in the fire treatment were associated with larger overall canopy gaps than roost trees within the control treatment. Regardless of treatment, northern myotis maternity colonies roosted in black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) in greater proportion than its availability. Ambient temperatures recorded at a subset of roost trees in fire and control treatments indicated that daily minimum temperatures were similar, but daily mean and maximum temperatures were higher in the fire treatments, possibly due to larger canopy gaps created by the senescence and decay of the surrounding fire-killed overstory trees. Northern myotis roost-switching frequency, distance between successive roosts, and duration of individual roost tree use were similar between the fire and control treatments, suggesting similar roost tree availability despite a significantly higher proportion of potential roost trees in the fire treatment. Northern myotis readily exploited alterations to forest structure created by the reintroduction of fire, which accelerated snag creation and enlarged existing or created new canopy gaps, but it remains to be determined if these conditions translate into increased recruitment and survivorship.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law