Scientists See at Hangers-on Amid Mass Die-off of Bats

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 10:40 AM

Researchers trying to figure out why winter populations of bats in some hibernation sites show up to have stabilized are studying everything from behavior to cave conditions.

As white-nose syndrome kills millions of bats across N America, there'south a glimmer of hope at hibernation spots where it first struck a decade ago: Some bats in some caves are hanging on.

Researchers trying to figure out why winter populations of bats in some hibernation sites show up to have stabilized are studying everything from behavior to cave conditions. Their answers about the persistence of the species known as tiny brown bats could be critical in dealing with the devastating fungal infection.

"We're hoping that things are turning around and the pop may be able to recover over time," said Scott Darling, a biologist with Vermont'south Dept of Fish and Wildlife. "The caveat, of course, is stabilization is at probably ten % of what it was of the population. But still, it'south excellent to know they're not continuing to decline."

The populations of tiny browns show up to have stabilized in some locations in upstate NY and Vermont, the region where deceased bats were found with sugary white smudges around their noses starting in two thousand-sixth. Afflicted bats rouse in the center of winter and burn down their overweight reserves as they see for food. Hibernation caves were decimated, with die-off rates hitting ninety percent.

White nose eventually spread through the Northeast and then beyond. It was identified latest week in the state of Washington, making it a coast-to-coast scourge confirmed in twenty-eighth states and five Canadian provinces.

Bats play an necessary role in controlling the populations of insects that can damage wheat and other crops. Wildlife biologists have openly worried about some species disappearing. There were predictions that hard-hit tiny brown bats would disappear from the Northeast by two thousand twenty-six, and the northern long-eared bat was listed as threatened just last year.

The less grim reports about small browns arrive even as other caves continue to post declines. Jeremy Coleman, the national white-nose coordinator with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said "it'south a mixed bag right presently but we're very hopeful what we're seeing at some locations is proof of persisting populations."

It'south possible the fungus has fewer chances to convey from bat to bat, and higher pop numbers in some caves could reflect the movement of surviving bats from other caves. But there is proof that bats can adapt to the fungus.

Bucknell Univ researchers analyzing hibernation patterns of infected tiny brown bats in upstate NY found they roused less frequently than bats during the peak of white nose mortality. That'south excellent news because these bats have a better chance of conserving sufficient energy for the winter.

"The surviving bats are ignoring that trigger somehow. They're not being triggered to arouse," said Bucknell biology Prof Ken Field.

Those bats could be behaving differently — maybe finding a cooler portion of the cave where the fungus fares worse. Or there could be some physical trait the bats could pass along to their offspring, Field said.

Scientists believe that bats in Europe and Asia have co-existed with the white nose fungus for a long time. In fact, the fungus may have made its way to upstate NY a decade ago on the boots or gear of a caver who was overseas.

Researchers from Univ of CA Santa Cruz who certified bats in the Midwest and China for white-nose fungus found lower levels of infection in Asian bats and said signs point to a higher resistance to the fungus among those Asian bats.

"We don't know whether or not it'south their immune system, some kind of microbe on their skin inhibiting their growth or what precisely is causing it," said researcher Kate Langwig, presently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University.

The Santa Cruz researchers also are investigating whether bats in a cave can be treated by spraying on bacteria that's been shown to strongly restrain the growth of the fungus in a lab setting.

Researchers caution that the emergency persists and even if small brown populations can rebound, it'd be unhurried going since females can only have one "pup" per year. But there is a feeling they're closing in on at minimum some of white nose's mysteries.

"We're hopefully about to reply some of these questions," Field said.

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