|A researcher holds a dead bat from an abandoned mine in |
Rosendale, N.Y., in this photo taken Jan. 27, 2009.
Figures released Thursday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation showed notable increases in the number of little brown bats in three out of five upstate New York hibernation caves where scientists first noticed white-nose decimating winter bat populations six years ago. The largest cave saw an increase from 1,496 little browns last year to 2,402 this winter.
There are hopes this is an early sign that bats can adapt to a disease that has spread to 19 states and Canada. But scientists caution it’s far too early to tell if it is the start of a trend or a statistical blip.
“While we remain cautiously optimistic of encouraging trends for some species seen more recently, it will likely take several years before we fully know how to interpret this,” said Kathleen Moser, the agency’s assistant commissioner of natural resources.
White-nose, named for the sugary smudges found on affected bats’ snouts, prompts bats to wake from their winter hibernation and die when they fly into the winter landscape in a futile search for food. First detected in 2006, the fungal infection has killed more than 5.7 million bats as it spread from the Northeast. In recent weeks, the disease has shown up in Alabama and Missouri, marking its advance west of the Mississippi River.
Scientists fear the disease could push some species to extinction and dramatically reduce the population animal farmers depend on for natural pest control.
The survey found that statewide losses of little browns, the most common bat species in New York before white-nose, remain at about 90 percent.
New York state bat biologist Carl Herzog said that while counts were up in the three caves west of Albany for little browns, bat-counters could have missed some in previous surveys and new bats coming to hibernate in the caves are a contributing factor.
But the possibility that bat populations could adapt to the fungus has long been the hope of scientists.
Source: Worcester Telegram