Changes in the forest bat community after arrival of white-nose syndrome in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas
Populations of some cave-hibernating bats have undergone declines in recent years due to an introduced fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that causes the disease white-nose syndrome (WNS), which is often fatal to bats during hibernation. Unprecedented declines in cave-hibernating species have the potential to change community composition via numerous mechanisms, including competitive release. We trapped bats for 6 years in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas prior to the arrival of WNS in the region and compared capture rates of 7 species to capture rates collected in 2020–2021 after WNS establishment. We found a 98% decline in Myotis septentrionalis (Northern Long-eared Bat) and a 77% decline in Perimyotis subflavus (Tricolored Bat) after WNS became prevalent. Nycticeius humeralis (Evening Bat) captures increased by 220% after WNS. Capture rates of Eptesicus fuscus (Big Brown Bat) increased by 100%, but this increase was not significant. We also found no significant differences in captures rates for Lasiurus borealis (Eastern Red Bat), Lasiurus seminolus (Seminole Bat), and Lasiurus cinereus (Hoary Bat) after the arrival of WNS. Our results indicate that the forest bat community of the Ouachita Mountains has been altered since the arrival of WNS in 2012, but it is unknown if these changes are permanent or if species will decline further or recover via adaptive or genetic changes in their populations in the future.