|This is the Glossophaga soricina, a bat species.|
Photograph by: University of Western Ontario
Millions of North American bats have been found dead or dying where they hibernate due to white-nose syndrome, a lethal disease caused by a fungus called geomyces destructans.
The disease typically wipes out 90 to 99 per cent of all bats in a given cave and has the potential to render all of the continent's hibernating species extinct. Migrating bat species do not appear to be affected by the fungus, which somehow wakes hibernating bats from their mid-winter torpor and leads them to starve to death.
Since its discovery in 2007, white-nose syndrome has decimated bat caves in 17 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, including Ontario. Given the rapid spread of the disease, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC, decided last month to ask federal Environment Minister Peter Kent to issue an emergency order to declare three bat species endangered.
Two of those species, the little brown bat and northern long-eared bat, are found in Manitoba. If Ottawa proceeds with the order, Manitoba could wind up with funding to help further protect hibernacula said provincial wildlife biologist Bill Watkins, COSEWIC's Manitoba board member.
"It's pretty clear from the evidence the little brown bat is in trouble," said Watkins, referring to Manitoba's most familiar bat. Although common in the province, the species is expected to be affected by white-nose syndrome by 2015 as the fungus has already been found in a cave near Wawa, Ont., on the east side of Lake Superior.
Manitoba already protects all six of its bat species — three hibernating bats and three that fly south for the winter. Federal protection could provide funds to purchase hibernacula located on private land or install barriers around them to keep people out, Watkins said.
It would also raise awareness of the threat posed to bats and possibly encourage more Manitobans to create summer habitat for the flying creatures, said Craig Willis, a University of Winnipeg biologist and leading white-nose syndrome researcher.
Willis is less certain, however, about another aspect of the endangered-species designation — the creation of a recovery team given the task of managing the population.
"If the bats are decimated (in Manitoba), it's not exactly clear what a recovery team would do," he said.
Ottawa has three months to decide whether to proceed with the emergency order.
Source: Global Winnipeg