Bat Population Monitoring in Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

A close-up of a northern long-eared bats face.
Northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis) are protected by the Endangered Species Act. This threatened species can be found in the park, but it is very rare.

NPS photo / Steven Thomas

Why is the park interested in bats?

Bats are an important part of ecosystems and food webs. Though some species of bats feed on fruit, seeds, or pollen, the species that live in Virginia are insectivores. They consume huge numbers of insects every night, filling a unique ecosystem role as nocturnal insect predators. Unfortunately, a new disease called white-nose syndrome is affecting bats across the United States. To better protect bats, biologists are studying how local bat populations are changing.

Research Highlights

  • Recent monitoring detected nine species of bats in the park, including two federally threatened or endangered species.
  • White-nose syndrome has negatively affected several of these species.
  • The park is providing important bat habitat, particularly for state endangered tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) and little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus).

How do biologists study bats? What have they learned about bats in the park?

Biologists have creative ways of studying these unique animals. Bats use echolocation to navigate and catch insect prey during the dark of night. People can’t hear these bat calls, so biologists use special microphones, called acoustic detectors, to record the sounds. By analyzing the bat calls, biologists can identify which specific bat species are present in an area during certain times of the year.

From 2016-2017, scientists used acoustic detectors to document nine species of bats in the park. The two most commonly detected bats were tri-colored bats and little brown bats. This is surprising since both of these species are state endangered and have suffered tremendous recent declines due to white-nose syndrome. Their high activity levels indicate that the park might provide important summer habitat for these rare species.

A bar chart of bat activity in the park.
Figure 1. Activity levels of bat species in Appomattox Court House National Historical Park recorded by acoustic detectors, 2016-2017.

Researchers also use special nets to capture bats at key locations in the park. Following capture, biologists can attach tiny radio-tracking devices to bats and follow the bats to important habitats. Park managers can then better protect these areas. For example, some bats return to the same breeding locations every year, including specific individual hollow trees, snags, or buildings. Limiting disturbance to these areas can help bats.

What about other rare species?

During the summer, there are four rare bat species that can be found at Appomattox Court House. In addition to the little brown bat and the tri-colored bat, the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) are also present. Both of these species are protected by the Endangered Species Act and were rarely recorded by the acoustic detectors. This indicates that they are not common. All four of these rare species are very sensitive to white-nose syndrome.

These rare bats spend their summer days roosting in tree cavities and snags, under tree bark, or in buildings. At night, they emerge to feed across the park’s landscape. During the fall, these species of bats usually travel to caves or mines, where they hibernate for the winter. In these caves and mines, they can contract white-nose syndrome and die.

Cloverhill Tavern at Appomattox Court House.
Bats have been roosting and raising their young behind the shutters of historic buildings in the village for over 40 years. Protecting nesting areas, whether in buildings or in forests, is important in safeguarding the survival of bats. Shown above, Cloverhill Tavern at Appomattox Court House.

NPS photo

What is the park doing to help bats?

The data being collected on bats will help park managers conserve bats and their habitat. Protecting hollow trees, snags, and buildings where bats raise their young and preserving mature hardwood forests will help reduce the impacts of the disease. White-nose syndrome remains an extraordinarily dangerous threat to bat populations—sadly, some species may ultimately disappear from the region.

What to learn more?

For more information:

Contact Natural Resource Manager Brian Eick.

Last updated: September 26, 2018