Genetic mark–recapture improves estimates of maternity colony size for indiana bats

Sara J. Oyler-Mccance, Jennifer A. Fike, Paul M. Lukacs, Dale W. Sparks, Thomas J. O’Shea, John O. Whitaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Genetic mark–recapture methods are increasingly being used to estimate demographic parameters in species where traditional techniques are problematic or imprecise. The federally endangered Indiana bat Myotis sodalis has declined dramatically and threats such as white-nose syndrome continue to afflict this species. To date, important demographic information for Indiana bats has been difficult to estimate precisely using traditional techniques such as emergence counts. Successful management and protection of Indiana bats requires better methods to estimate population sizes and survival rates throughout the year, particularly during summer when these bats reproduce and are widely dispersed away from their winter hibernacula. In addition, the familial makeup of maternity colonies is unknown, yet important for understanding local and regional population dynamics. We had four objectives in this study. For the first two objectives we investigated the potential use of DNA from fecal samples (fecal DNA) collected at roosts to obtain genetically based mark–recapture estimates of 1) colony size and 2) survival rates, for an Indiana bat maternity colony in Indianapolis, Indiana. The third objective was to compare our genetically based colony-size estimates with emergence counts conducted at the same roost tree to evaluate the genetic mark–recapture method. Our fourth objective was to use fecal DNA to estimate levels of relatedness among individuals sampled at the roost. In the summer of 2008, we collected fecal pellets and conducted emergence counts at a prominent roost tree during three time periods each lasting 7 or 8 d. We genotyped fecal DNA using five highly polymorphic microsatellite loci to identify individuals and used a robust-design mark–recapture approach to estimate survival rates as well as colony size at the roost tree. Emergence count estimates at the roost tree ranged from 100 to 215, whereas genetic mark–recapture estimates were higher, ranging from 122 to 266 and more precise. Apparent survival was 0.994 (SE ¼ 0.04) between sampling periods suggesting that few bats died or permanently emigrated during the course of the study. Relatedness estimates, r, between all pairs of individuals averaged 0.055 ranging from 0 to 0.779, indicating that most individuals were not closely related. We demonstrate here the promise of using fecal DNA to estimate demographic information for Indiana bats and potentially other bat species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-35
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Fish and Wildlife Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Fecal DNA
  • Mark
  • Microsatellite
  • Myotis sodalis
  • Noninvasive sampling
  • Population size
  • Recapture
  • Survival rate


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