Northeast Bat Toll Hits 90% – 12/17/2009

  • December 31, 2013 at 3:31 am #1835

    Northeast Bat Toll Hits 90%
    by Joel Banner Baird, Burlington Free Press Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    The survey, begun last winter by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, points to a larger-than-expected death count in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts caves.

    White-nose syndrome has claimed the lives of more than 1 million insect-eating bats over the past two winters due to premature loss of fat reserves, starvation and possibly an undetected pathogen, experts say.

    The study shows that little brown bats, which comprise about 85 percent of all hibernating bats in the region, were the hardest hit: Their numbers declined by about 93 percent. Indiana bat declines ranged from 97 percent to 29 percent — a disparity that matches scientists’ frustrations in tracking a clear-cut culprit for white-nose syndrome (the fungus alone does not appear to be a killer).

    In the department’s news release, New York bat specialist Alan Hicks termed the die-offs unprecedented, and said multi-jurisdictional efforts would accelerate as funding allows. “Collecting data at the epicenter is not only critical for protecting animals here, but also for informing wildlife agencies across the country that are dealing with this issue,” he said.

    The study included 18 caves in eastern New York, four in western Massachusetts and one in Vermont.

    Midwinter bat research in the Northeast is hampered by access to hibernacula, said Scott Darling, Vermont Fish and Wildlife bat biologist.

    This week, though, he’s checking in on experiments in caves in Bridgewater and Stockbridge, where 79 uninfected little brown bats had been “transplanted” from Wisconsin.

    Some stress-related mortalities are to be expected, Hicks said Wednesday; laboratory results next week will reveal whether white-nose syndrome — not always visible to the human eye — is the culprit.

    “This could be the ‘Ghost of Christmas Future,'” Hicks said. “What we find here, they’ll find in Kentucky four years from now. That’s why it’s important to get the best possible information right now.”

    Vermont and New York biologists pooled state and federal money for the relocation project.

    On Oct. 26, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced six grants totaling $800,000 to support white-nose-syndrome prevention, eradication and decontamination projects.

    More than 40 research proposals, with a cumulative price tag of $4.8 million, were submitted, the service reported.

    Three days later, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced a $1.9 million appropriation to fund research into causes of and treatments for white-nose syndrome.

    The prospect of these species’ extinction, he said after the announcement, would be catastrophic — and not just for the bats.

    A rise in mosquitoes and mosquito-borne illnesses might raise the alert level, he said; as would increased insect damage to fruits and vegetables.
    The U.S. Department of the Interior issued a similar warning.

    “Bats are an incredibly important component of our nation’s ecosystem, and the loss of even one species could be disastrous for wildlife, agriculture and people,” said Jane Lyder, the Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.


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