The northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis), a federally threatened species, occurs in extreme northern, eastern, and southern Nebraska. These regions vary in climate due to geographic location, topography, and elevation. During a 1-week period in early July 2015, we surveyed bats across the state and observed striking variation in the reproductive status for M. septentrionalis. We examined whether or not growing degree days, an abiotic climatic factor used mainly for agricultural practices, was associated with this reproductive variation in a mammalian species. In early July, we captured only pregnant females in the Pine Ridge region of northwestern Nebraska, the region with the lowest number of growing degree days. In contrast, we captured both lactating females and flying young along the Republican River in south-central Nebraska near the border with Kansas, an area with a high, but intermediate number of growing degree days. Along the Missouri River, in extreme east-central Nebraska, along the border with Iowa, we documented lactating females with no evidence of volant young. This locality had the highest number of growing degree days. Phenotypic plasticity in timing of births for M. septentrionalis appears to be, in part, related to climatic differences across Nebraska, a relationship commonly observed for plants and invertebrates. Our study demonstrates that reproductive phenology can vary significantly across the distribution of a species and needs to be considered when making management decisions for imperiled species. Delayed reproduction in cooler regions of the species' range presents risks to reproductive female M. septentrionalis and their nonvolant offspring, even with current protective measures. In areas with short growing seasons, restrictions on the timing of tree-cutting should be expanded beyond 31 July in more northerly parts of the species' distribution, so as not to hinder reproductive success during the time when juvenile bats are unable to fly.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics