Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Semester of Degree Completion

2019

Thesis Director

Jill L. Deppe

Thesis Committee Member

Eric K. Bollinger

Thesis Committee Member

Joy O'Keefe

Thesis Committee Member

Britto P. Nathan

Abstract

Myotis sodalis, the Indiana bat, is a federally endangered bat species in the United States of America (USA). Conservation efforts are typically focused at identified maternity sites at local scales, however, the species is a regional migrant that interacts with its environment at multiple spatial scales. We are limited in our knowledge of landscape-level requirements of this species, especially in large areas such as Illinois, USA, where a wide range of environmental and landscape conditions exist. Many previous M. sodalis habitat studies have limited their focus to smaller spatial scales. Due to limitations in funding, personnel, and time, it is imperative we understand both microhabitat and landscape-level habitat preferences to prioritize effective adaptive management strategies to maximize return on conservation investment. Our goals were to 1) identify the main factors that influence the distribution of maternity colonies across the Illinois landscape, 2) map the distribution of suitable habitat, 3) identify habitat patches that are important to conserve for retaining the functional connectivity of all habitat, and 4) identify state and federally-owned and/or managed lands that contain optimal habitat to highlight areas to focus conservation investments. Using 30 years of maternity occurrence data, we created Habitat Suitability Models (HSMs) and identified factors influencing the distribution of M. sodalis. We combined plausible models to map suitable maternity habitat across the study area. Using graph theory, we conducted a connectivity analysis on optimal habitat patches to rank them according to Probability of Connectivity-associated metrics. Our models indicated that M. sodalis require complex landscape-level habitat features, including limited agriculture, more forest and forest edge, proximity to medium-sized water bodies, lower elevations, and limited urban development. In addition, areas farther from major roads and closer to hibernation sites provide better habitat. One-third of Illinois is suitable maternity habitat for M. sodalis and many optimal patches occur within protected areas. We revealed that many habitat patches not only are important for hosting maternity colonies, but also are necessary components for bats migrating from hibernation sites to reach other maternity habitat patches. Our models allowed us to develop conservation strategies to recommend for improving maternity habitat suitability and connectivity in priority areas to aid in the recovery of this imperiled bat species.

Available for download on Thursday, October 15, 2020

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