Masters Theses

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Adam S. Willcox

Committee Members

Emma V. Willcox, Marcy J. Souza, Michelle L. Verant


White-nose syndrome (WNS) has drastically changed how caves are managed in the United States. This disease has killed millions of bats throughout eastern North America and continues to spread westward. Since the discovery of WNS, The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) has acted to slow the spread of the disease through the development of educational programs and the deployment of decontamination measures. Despite the vast array of research on the biological and ecological aspects of bats and WNS, few studies focus on how visitor attitudes and knowledge of management strategies implemented in response to WNS impact the effectiveness of these programs. To better inform management decisions, I examined national park visitor attitudes towards bats and common cave management actions.

To better understand the context surrounding WNS management in U.S. national parks, I conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 15 key informants that worked for or closely with the National Park Service. Common themes emerged from these interviews, including the diversity of cave management programs in national parks, the use of context-specific management plans, the similar challenges national parks face when managing for bats and WNS, and the difference in cave management perceptions between the general public and cavers.

Using this information, I created a visitor survey assessing their attitudes towards bats, knowledge of WNS, and perceptions of common WNS preventive measures. I surveyed 1365 visitors at eight national parks throughout the country during the summer of 2019. Overall, respondents expressed positive attitudes towards bats, moderate to high knowledge of bat ecology, and a high recognition of WNS. Visitor recognition of WNS varied greatly between the parks, with visitors at Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota) having the highest recognition of WNS (87%) and visitors at El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico) having the lowest recognition of WNS (63%). Using the Theory of Planned Behavior as a framework, we also found that visitors would likely follow WNS preventive actions, with structural equation models showing that attitudes and subjective norms had the greatest influence over visitor behavioral intent.

Using these results, I present the implications of this research and management actions that may be implemented to meet multiple conservation objectives. It will be crucial to continue to integrate biological and social science research to achieve management goals focused on enhancing recreation and conservation in environments shared by humans and bats.

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