Date of Award

8-2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Emma V. Willcox

Committee Members

Liem T. Tran, Adam S. Willcox, William H. Stiver

Abstract

During summer, bats are regularly observed in buildings of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM or the Park), the most visited National Park in the USA. As a result, natural and cultural resources managers seek to ensure public safety and protect historic structures while minimizing impacts on bats, especially in light of declines in bat populations as a result of white-nose syndrome. To inform management decisions, I examined the ecological and human dimensions of bats roosting in buildings in GRSM.

To assess roost selection by building-roosting bats, I surveyed 140 buildings in the Park for bats during May to August, 2015 and 2016, identifying 48 roost sites and detecting 5 species. I compared the microclimate conditions, building features, and habitat patch characteristics of buildings used and unused by bats using an information-theoretic approach. Averaged parameter estimates from logistic regression models developed with survey data indicated bat presence was more likely in old buildings with dark conditions surrounded by low road density. Of all roost buildings, 66% were accessed regularly by tourists and 68% were managed as historic structures.

For the human dimensions study, I surveyed 420 park visitors at three sites in the Cades Cove area of GRSM during June to August 2016. The questionnaire assessed visitor attitudes toward bats, knowledge about threats to bats, knowledge about ecosystem services provided by bats, and support for management of bats. Most respondents supported management action to protect bats in buildings in Cades Cove during summer (76%). Standardized parameter estimates from a multiple linear regression developed with survey data indicated attitudes toward bats and knowledge of threats to bats had the greatest effects on support for bat management.

I present alternative management and public communication strategies that may be implemented to meet multiple conservation objectives. The methods used in each study could be used to assess roost selection by building-roosting bats or public perceptions of building-roosting bats in other regions. Future research on building-roosting bats in both historic and modern structures may contribute to conservation efforts as the extended impacts of white-nose syndrome on North American bat populations are further observed and understood.

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