|In this Jan. 27, 2009 file photo, Scott Crocoll holds |
a dead bat in an abandoned mine in Rosendale, N.Y
The fungal infection, just confirmed in this province in spring 2011, has already caused the deaths of about 30 per cent of bats in some sites in the province, says Hugh Broders, a bat researcher at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.
“It is incredibly sad,” said Broders. “It is only going to get worse.
“It is basically one of the more devastating situations that we have had to deal with in wildlife science.”
Broders, an associate professor and chairman of the university’s biology department, and his research team monitor five bat wintering sites on mainland Nova Scotia, such as caves, where bats hibernate.
“When we did our surveys of these sites in early winter, all were normal,” he said. “When we went back in late winter to do our surveys, we found evidence of the fungus at all of the sites.
“At one of our sites, the numbers were down by 30 per cent and the other site was down by about 25 per cent.”
While the bat counts were normal at the remaining three sites, Broders expects they will also show significant population declines by next year.
Researchers don’t identify the sites to prevent people from visiting them and contributing to spread of the fungus.
White-nose syndrome gets its name from the white fungal growth on the nose and wings of infected bats. The disease causes bats to come out of hibernation too soon, causing them to use up their fat reserves necessary for surviving the winter. Infected bats usually die of starvation or dehydration.
Mark Elderkin, a biologist with the wildlife division of the Department of Natural Resources, said the department had numerous calls during the winter about bats flying around when they should have been hibernating. Many calls came from the Economy and Five Islands area
“These were calls of people finding three, four, five, bats, sometimes more, all huddled up under the alcoves of their houses outside, on top of one another, trying to get heat,” said Elderkin, who works in Kentville.
“The total number of individual bats reported to us from about the end of the first week of January through until about the end of March was over 450.”
Elderkin said their needs to be more investment into research on the disease.
The fungus, which is not native to North America, was first identified in New York State in 2006. It was detected in Canada during the winter of 2009-2010. It has been confirmed in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia has three species of bats: tri-coloured bat, little brown myotis, and northern myotis, all of which are highly vulnerable to the fungus.
“In other areas (outside the province), these species numbers have declined by upwards of 80 to 90 per cent in three or four years,” Broders said.
In February, an emergency sub-committee of the Committee on Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assessed all three bat species as endangered in Canada because of the rapid spread of white-nose syndrome.
Broders said it is too early to tell if the bats will die out, but “it seems highly likely that there will be a drastic decrease in population sizes of bats in Nova Scotia.”
Bats play an important role in insect control and pollination.
“There is a whole variety of goods and services that they provide humans free of charge,” Elderkin said.
“The implications are not going to probably be understood for decades in terms of overall seriousness of what is taking place.”
Source: The Cronicle Herald