Hope For Decimated Bat Population

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(Host) Bats in our region began dying off in large numbers beginning in 2007 from a disease known as White Nose Syndrome.

As the death toll climbed to over a million bats, scientists were left without an answer regarding the cause of the disease.

But as VPR’s Ric Cengeri reports, recent developments are giving the wildlife community hope that the die-off can be thwarted.

(Cengeri)  First discovered in a cave in New York State, White Nose Syndrome has spread in all directions – east to Nova Scotia, north into Quebec and Ontario, south to North Carolina and west to Ohio.

But it wasn’t until recently that the cause of the disease was finally confirmed. Scientists say the source of White Nose Syndrome is a fungus called Geomyces Destructans.

Susi von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist for U. S. Fish and Wildlife, says the fungus loves cold, humid locations like the caves where bats hibernate in the winter.

(Susi von Oettingen) "Some species that are hibernating in these caves and mines might actually hibernate in parts of the caves that are either very, very conducive to the fungal growth and other parts of the cave that the fungus is not apt to be as dense or may attack the bats as much."

(Cengeri) Von Oettingen says that it’s difficult to stop the disease from spreading in a species that flies hundreds of miles between winter and summer habitats. But she also says humans might be aiding the spread of White Nose Syndrome by entering caves or mines in the winter.

(Von Oettingen) "They could be causing severe damage by either disturbing the bats or by moving the fungus around the landscape."

(Cengeri) Von Oettingen says the fungus can attach itself to clothing and be carried to other bat hibernacula.

Recently, it was also discovered that some little brown bats, a species significantly affected by White Nose Syndrome, seem to be able to recover from the disease and even reproduce.

Another potential threat to bat populations are turbines built for wind energy.

Bat biologist Scott Darling says that low-wind days prove more challenging, when bats prefer flying and turbines are moving at slower speeds but not producing much energy. He says the solution is to keep the rotors from moving when wind speed is low.

(Scott Darling) "They don’t cut in until the wind speeds are a bit higher. And we can reduce bat fatalities by 50 to 90% by doing that."

(Cengeri) Darling says that wind energy facilities in Vermont have been receptive to making the operational adjustments that limit bat fatalities.

For VPR News, I’m Ric Cengeri.

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