Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ridgefield Press > Outlook for CT bats bleak



Bats with White Nose Syndrome.
A syndrome that attacks hibernating bats continues to kill them at alarming rates both in Connecticut and in expanding areas range-wide, which will lead to a dramatic reduction in the size of the state’s bat population this summer, according to wildlife experts at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella said today, “On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the outbreak of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) that we are seeing serves as a reminder of the fragility of our planet and the interconnectedness of all living things. The massive die-off of the bat population that it is causing is also likely to have serious impacts on agriculture, forestry and other sectors of our economy.”


Jenny Dickson, DEP Supervising wildlife biologist, said, “White Nose Syndrome continues to have a catastrophic effect on bats. Just three short years ago, one of Connecticut’s largest hibernacula had over 3,300 wintering bats. This year fewer than a dozen remain — all but one showed active signs of WNS. The outlook for their survival is grim.”

The DEP says visits to other winter hibernacula — caves and mines where bats hibernate — revealed similar mortality rates. Another large site showed a 95% decline in bat numbers since a winter count in 2007. The only positive note from the 2010 surveys was that only three of the remaining bats at that site showed visible signs of the fungus.
Ms. Dickson also noted that WNS continues to take a devastating toll in the nearby states of New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont, where a significant percentage of the state’s bat population hibernates for the winter.
Ms. Dickson said, “WNS continues to kill some of our most common, backyard bats including the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), and the tricolored bat (pipistrelle; Perimyotis subflavus), but has spread to other species, too.”
“When you put together the massive die-offs in our hibernacula and the continued spread of WNS in the northern hemisphere, the news is not good,” said Ms. Dickson. “Bats live long lives and reproduce in small numbers — so there is no doubt that WNS will have a major impact on our bat population and on the biodiversity and ecosystems throughout the US and Canada for decades to come.”
Ms. Dickson also noted that the presence of WNS in bats has spread geographically at an alarming rate. After first being discovered in caves in New York in the winter of 2006-2007, it is now in two Canadian Provinces and 11 states from New Hampshire south to Tennessee.
Last week, the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune (MRNF) in Quebec announced that WNS has been formally identified in the Outaouais region of Canada. Reports of abnormal behavior by suspect bats have also been made in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region in recent weeks. The MRNF is monitoring the situation with assistance from the Centre québécois sur la santé des animaux sauvages and the United States Geological Survey’s (U.S.G.S.) National Wildlife Health Center.
Bats with WNS have a white fungus on their noses and occasionally other parts of their bodies that is only visible during hibernation. The identity of the fungus responsible for this white bloom, Geomyces destructans, was confirmed late last year. The fungus has been genetically linked to a European fungus. There are strong indications that this fungus is a non-native, invasive species has had a deadly impact on native populations of bats. The exact role of the fungus in bat deaths is still unclear, but it is well-documented to alter normal sleeping patterns of hibernating bats causing them to use all of their stored fat reserves before winter ends. There is no indication that people are susceptible to the fungus.
Ms. Dickson said the DEP is asking the public to report any known summer bat colonies by calling (860) 675-8130 or via email to Wildlife Technician, Christina Kocer at christina.kocer@ct.gov . As bats continue to return to maternity sites and summer roosts, the agency would like to hear from people about changes in the number of bats they are seeing or even about bat colonies that once existed and do not return to their previous homes.
Ms. Dickson said DEP is working with other affected states and provinces, federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S.G.S. and several research universities to learn more about WNS, possible control methods, and to develop conservation strategies to protect remaining bat populations and hopefully prevent the continued spread of this fatal fungus.
Additional information about WNS — and its impact in various states — can be found at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html