Precipitous decline in bat populations across northeast US

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Dr. Reichard describing the extent of White-nosed Syndrome in bat populations in the northeast US.

Dr. Jonathon Reichard, Assistant National Coordinator for White-nosed Syndrome at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, gave a fascinating talk about the state of bat populations in our region. It’s really quite scary to know that some species of bats have decline by 95% since 2007. After starting in New York state, it’s spread down the Appalachian mountain chain and into several Canadian Provinces, each year claiming more bat victims.

White-nosed Syndrome was first noticed in 2007, and traced back using photo records to Howes Cavern in 2006.  Scientists still know very little about how it got there, how to treat infected bats, why the bats die or how it is spread.  They have identified a fungus, Geomyces destructans, that seems to be linked to the disease, which is a soil-based fungus. Interestingly, the fungus is found in many places around the world without being associated with white-nosed syndrome and causing massive bat mortality. We don’t know why bats are dying. One hypothesis is that bats must fight the infection, using precious energy when they should be hibernating, and starving before warmer spring weather arrives.

EQLT members sitting down to enjoy a bountiful potluck supper

There are seven species confirmed to have white-nosed syndrome, all of which are hibernating species. Not all species are impacted as severely as the little brown bat. However it appears that in addition to outright mortality, the reproductive rates are also declining. There maybe other factors that stress bats and threaten their survival.

There aren’t any known hibernaculum in our area of Massachusetts, so we can help by encouraging summer roosting sites. We have several different bat species using the Frohloff barn and discussed the possibility of adding a special bat house structure in the barn this summer. Stay tuned.