White Nose Syndrome was first discovered to be affecting bats in northeast North America in 2007. Since then it has devastated bat populations in the region and spread substantially across the eastern United States. There are several new developments that may be of interest to Rhode Island naturalists.
The following is a news item sent to RINHS by Bob Brooks, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Amherst, Mass.:
There has been significant documentation of WNS-associated declines in bats populations in winter hibernacula, excellently summarized by Frick et al. in their 2010 Science article. We are now starting to document the effects of this mortality in summer activity surveys. The first report was by Dzal et al. from surveys along the Upper Hudson River, NY. I am pleased to announce that an “in press” report on a 2010 re-survey of my 2004-2006 Quabbin sites is available on the Biodiversity and Conservation website.
Abstract: White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first reported in a hibernating bat population in central New York State in February 2006. Since 2006, WNS has been reported from bat hibernacula across much of eastern United States and adjacent Canada and has been associated with a dramatic decline in the populations of hibernating bats in the northeastern U.S. We are only beginning to discover how these declines are manifest in changes in summer bat abundance and activity at local scales. A 3-year (2004–2006) acoustic survey showed that the forested watershed of the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts supported an abundant and species-rich summer bat community. In 2010, 4-years following the initial occurrence of WNS, a re-survey of the same habitats and sites found a 72% reduction in bat activity on the watershed. This is the identical rate of decline reported from cave hibernacula surveys (73%). This decline in summer activity levels is most likely a consequence of WNS-caused mortality. The impacts of population losses of this magnitude of a once widespread and abundant taxa are unknown but are presumed to be ecologically significant.
If anyone is interested in the paper and is unable to access it from the journal website, I would gladly send a digital reprint. -Bob Brooks
WNS is, in all likelihood, caused by a fungus (Geomyces destructans), and has been shown to be transmissible not just from bat to bat but from G.d. spores in the environment, it is imperative that those venturing into caves or other bat habitats and those handling bats take steps to prevent movement of spores and other contamination. To that end, a decontamination protocol has been developed using the best available science. Those interested can follow this link: WNS decontamination procedure
Here in Rhode Island, the Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fish & Wildlife, has been developing bat monitoring procedures to better understand the importance of bats in our local ecosystem and any long-term changes that may result from WNS. DEM Biologist Charlie Brown has been the lead on this project and those interested what’s happening or in what they can do to help should contact him using the DEM Fish & Wildlife website.