Please visit us there for the most up-to-date information about the white-nose syndrome response efforts.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged bat, bats, conservation, fish and wildlife, fish and wildlife service, fws, hibernaculum, Little brown bat, research, US Fish and Wildlife Service, usfws, white nose syndrome, whitenosesyndrome, wildlife, wildlife disease, wns on February 14, 2012 | 7 Comments »
Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released an updated estimate for the number of bats that have died as a result of white-nose syndrome. This estimate, that at least 5.7 to 6.7 million bats have been lost to this terrible disease, represents a considerable and alarming increase from the previous estimate. But sadly, to many us who have been working on WNS for the past few years, I don’t think the number came as a surprise.
The last time the scientific community got together to assess how many bats had died from WNS was 2009, just three years after the disease was discovered in New York. Significant mortality events had been documented in New York and western New England, but the disease had yet to spread into most of the now-affected area.
Since that time, we have been through two additional hibernation seasons with extensive geographic spread and mortality events. And as we head into yet another winter, the outlook isn’t good for bat populations across the affected area. From Ontario and New Brunswick south to North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, early reports of new sites and bats exhibiting the telltale signs of WNS have already been coming in. Across the rest of the already affected area, the disease continues to spread and affect bats that have managed to thus far avoid the fate of the missing and the dead among their ranks.
It is difficult to wrap our brains around a million of any one thing, let alone 5.5 million, and it is particularly difficult if that something is as elusive and mysterious as a bat. I’ve been working with bats for about seven years, and it wasn’t until my first trip last year to a grey bat cave with over 200,000 hibernating bats that I could even visualize what “a million” hibernating bats could look like. And unfortunately, a visit to Aeolus Cave in Vermont showed me the devastating aftermath of what losing 300,000 bats in one cave to white-nose syndrome looks like, too.
The reality is that we don’t know much about our hibernating bats. There are hundreds of thousands of caves and mines in North America, the majority of which have never been surveyed for bats. Unfortunately, in the east WNS moved so quickly we will never know exactly how many bats there were. But what we do have is solid population data from many sites and the expert opinions of state and federal bat biologists and bat researchers- some with over 30 years of experience working with bat populations- to help us understand what the pre-WNS hibernating bat population likely was.
The question “how many bats have died?” is a vexing one, so I asked Dr. Jeremy Coleman, the National White-Nose Syndrome Coordinator, to explain- from the scientific perspective- the processes and challenges to estimating the mortality of bats from this terrible disease.
WNS mortality estimates, January 2012.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an infectious disease responsible for unprecedented mortality in hibernating bats in eastern North America since its discovery in 2007. In 2009 WNS was known to exist in nine states, with mass mortality largely restricted to portions of New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. At that time, it was estimated that losses from WNS exceeded one million bats (BCI 2009). Since 2009 the disease has continued to spread, and WNS, and/or the causative fungus Geomyces destructans (Lorch et al. 2011), has now been detected in 19 states and 4 provinces. Population declines have continued at most affected sites, with 85-100% losses reported at many winter hibernacula. There are some hibernacula and maternity colonies in the affected area where remnant populations of bats continue to be observed. We are working to improve our understanding of the nature of these populations and to document their numbers. As the majority of these animals are not banded or marked, however, it is premature to infer that these bats are likely to survive with WNS, or that they will be capable of maintaining viable populations that could eventually lead to the recovery of affected populations.
Decades of targeted monitoring of federally listed species has bestowed confidence in the consistency of our assessments of Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) and other listed bats, however we are limited in our knowledge of other cave-hibernating bat species at the landscape-scale. Largely because of the monitoring efforts for listed species, we do have consistent counts of non-listed bats at many hibernacula in the eastern United States. These historic data have allowed us to assess population declines at specific WNS-affected hibernacula, and thus to ascertain the relative impacts of WNS on bat populations by species (see Turner et al. 2011). Assessing total population losses in terms of numbers of individual bats, however, poses a considerable challenge given the relative lack of pre-WNS count data for the bat species that were, until recently, considered “common.” Additionally, there are tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of abandoned mines and natural caves in the affected region that have never been surveyed. There are also several known hibernacula that have not been surveyed post-WNS in order to minimize disturbance to infected bats. Unfortunately, it was with the arrival of WNS that several little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) hibernacula of considerable size were discovered, when dead and dying bats appeared on the landscape in large numbers. We cannot know the number of bats that inhabited such sites, or the number of sizeable hibernacula that have gone undetected. For these reasons, efforts to determine pre-WNS bat populations and/or the number of bats that have died from WNS are rife with uncertainty.
In hopes of better understanding the greater ecological impacts of WNS, and to convey the gravity of the population-level effects of this disease on affected bat populations, on 12 January 2012 we convened a group of approximately 20 bat biologists (state and federal agency personnel and academic researchers) to update the estimates of total mortality to date. We employed 2 different methods to estimate total mortality, and both are reflected in the numbers we released on 17 January of 5.7-6.7 million bats lost to WNS through 2011. The first estimate was generated using the same general methods used in 2009, when we estimated that over one million bats had died. This approach is based on known losses of bats at hibernacula, and the expert knowledge of state bat biologists regarding the proportion of the total bat population captured by their assessments. Estimates of mortality in 10 states were tallied to derive a total estimate for WNS-affected states in the northeastern U.S. The second method involved estimating the total bat population in affected states based on published estimates of bat populations by species. Observed declines reported by Turner et al. (2011) were then used to estimate total losses by species, which were then tallied. Lastly, in consultation with Canadian partners, we estimated bat losses in affected provinces based on estimates from WNS-affected states and the assumption that bat densities in the affected region of Canadian provinces are comparable to those in bordering states. This assumption is based on summer capture data and knowledge of wintering populations and habitat.
The estimates of bat mortality released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on 17 January 2012 are based on the best available data and derived by experts in the field. Given the uncertainties inherent in the development of this assessment, as detailed above, we felt it was important to both replicate the methods employed in 2009 for consistency, but also to employ an alternate approach to provide a range of values. The methods we used for this exercise preclude the generation of confidence estimates, but it suffices to say that all involved were generally satisfied by the relative agreement of the estimates generated by the different methods. We are preparing a manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal to provide a detailed treatment of the data and a refinement of the methodology. As part of the national response to WNS, we are also developing guidance for a national bat population monitoring strategy that will help to standardize data collection and improve our ability to track the impacts of WNS on bat populations as the disease continues to spread.
Bat Conservation International (BCI). 2009. White-nose Syndrome Science Strategy Meeting II, May 27-28, 2009, Austin, Texas. Bat Conservation International. Austin, Texas. http://www.batcon.org/pdfs/whitenose/WNS2FinalReport.pdf, accessed 2 February 2012.
Lorch, J. M., C. U. Meteyer, M. J. Behr, J. G. Boyles, P. M. Cryan, A. C. Hicks, A. E. Ballmann, J. T. H. Coleman, D. N. Redell, D. M. Reeder, and D. S. Blehert. 2011. Experimental infection of bats with Geomyces destructans causes white-nose syndrome. Nature 480:376-378.
Turner, G. G., D. M. Reeder, and J. T. H. Coleman. 2011. A five-year assessment of mortality and geographic spread of white-nose syndrome in North American bats and a look to the future. Bat Research News 52:13-27.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged bat, bats, Czech Republic, fish and wildlife service, fws, National Wildlife Health Center, Townsend's big-eared bat, US Fish and Wildlife Service, usfws, USGS, white nose syndrome, wildlife disease, wns on January 30, 2012 | 6 Comments »
Scientists confirmed white-nose syndrome (WNS) in hibernating bats from the Czech Republic. These findings, reported in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, are the first documentation that G. destructans can cause disease in bats of Europe.
White fungal growth on the muzzles of hibernating bats in Europe has been observed for almost 3 decades. Over the past few years, samples of the white fungal growth from bats in 12 European countries were identified as G. destructans. Until now, however, it was unknown whether this fungus caused disease in European bats.
White-nose syndrome was first identified in 2007 among a single group of closely spaced hibernacula in New York that included a tourist cave. Since first discovery, the disease has quickly spread across eastern North America, and it is estimated to have killed more than 5.5 million cave-hibernating bats. This pattern of disease spread suggests that G. destructans was recently introduced to North America, and the most likely source is Europe. Many North American hibernation sites have experienced bat population declines ranging from 95 to 100 percent. Unlike in North America, infection of European bats by G. destructans has not been associated with unusual mortality.
Differences in WNS mortality between bats of North America and Europe are not yet understood. Similar questions also surround apparent differences in WNS mortality between different species of hibernating bats of eastern North America. We do, however, know that G. destructans can colonize skin of hibernating bats without causing the skin erosions or ulcers that define the disease.
For an infectious agent, particularly a cold-loving skin fungus such as G. destructans, to cause disease, many conditions must be met, including those involving the hibernating bats, the fungus, and the environment they share. For example, conditions within hibernacula, particularly at the site of hibernation, may influence the growth rate of the fungus and production of infectious fungal spores. Also, hibernating populations of North American bats are significantly larger than those in Europe, and the size of the hibernating clusters of bats may influence the ability of G. destructans to spread. Along these lines, conditions outside of hibernacula such as winter length and severity may influence the ability of bats to withstand infection over the hibernation season. The body size of bats might also affect the sensitivity of bats to this disease. The greater mouse-eared bat that was diagnosed with WNS in Europe has an average body mass of 26 grams during hibernation. The little brown bat that is most frequently diagnosed with WNS in North America weighs only approximately 7 grams.
It is unlikely that bat populations of North America undergoing extreme mortality due to WNS, can rely on a few survivors that might be able to adapt to this disease. Current rates of mortality among North American bats with WNS are unprecedented and seem to be outpacing the rate at which survivors might compensate, recover, reproduce, and persist.
Nothing currently known will end WNS mortality for North American bats. Preventing spread of the disease is the only defense humans can attempt to control, particularly when human behaviors are involved. Research to better understand WNS in bats and the contributions of the fungal characteristics, the environment, and the behavior, physiology and immunology of bats provide the greatest hope for identifying points of intervention to break the disease cycle. Investigating why WNS causes extensive mortality in North American bat populations but not European bat populations may also provide the insight needed to develop strategies to reduce the effects of WNS.
Carol Meteyer is a veterinarian with a specialty in wildlife pathology. She works at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center where she investigates causes of illness and death in wildlife. In addition to diagnosing causes of wildlife mortality, her research interests are white-nose syndrome in bats, highly pathogenic avian influenza, and other viral diseases in waterfowl, and effects of man-made and natural toxins on wildlife.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged bat, bat conservation international, bats, cave, conservation, decontamination, Field work, fish and wildlife, fish and wildlife service, fws, hibernaculum, Nature Conservancy, research, usfws, white nose syndrome, whitenosesyndrome, wildlife, wildlife disease, wns on October 3, 2011 | 7 Comments »
Halloween is on its way and with it comes the festive images of black bats flittering through a leafless forest. While this iconography may have contributed to bats’ unfortunate public image, the fear of losing our bats is something truly scary. Will our cave hibernating bats go the way of the American chestnut, victim to a foreign fungus, preserved in memory through holiday traditions? Now that’s a frightful thought.
White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is still an emerging pathogen. Although we continue to research, monitor, track, acquire background data, etc., we are far from having enough information to battle WNS on a meaningful scale. Further complicating the conservation and recovery is the sensitive environment in which WNS attacks our cave dwelling bats: complex ecological systems void of sunlight and plants in which fungi are a major component. Almost any environmental treatment option will likely upset these unique ecological systems. The rate of WNS transmission and geographic spread has been incredible. Due to the seasonality of WNS and the nature of modern scientific research, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and nearly helpless when considering bat conservation in the face of WNS.
Any conservation effort designed to mitigate the effects of WNS right now would be very risky. We have very little information about how Geomyces destructans (G.d. – the fungus which causes WNS) interacts with the cave environment, what environmental fungal loads are and how/if they influence WNS severity, etc. I’ll stop because if I was to create a list of things we don’t know about G.d. and WNS, it would overcome the limits of my computer storage capacity.
But can we really sit by—watching, recording, gathering information— while this horrifying disease sweeps through our caves killing millions of bats? All the while our bats are disappearing from our landscape. The Nature Conservancy is a scientific conservation organization that does not back down from a challenge of this magnitude and we are taking action.
Risky? Yes. Desperate? Yes. Worthwhile? You bet. In 2009 when WNS made its big leap down the Virginias, it became apparent to many of us batty Nature Conservancy folks that WNS had terrifying potential. We began immediately looking for conservation opportunities. We made calls, participated in workshops, and gathered as much information as we could and came up with a very, very short list of WNS conservation ideas which could be applied with the information and technologies we have at hand. Our search required that the projects be environmentally benign and they not increase risks to even individual bats, which are under enough pressure already. One strategy seemed to really fit the bill: an artificial cave.
In an artificial cave, you can manipulate the environment and kill the fungus with anti-fungal agents or heat while the bats are absent, without fear of impacting a natural ecosystem. You can manipulate the environment to attract a variety of bat species. Ideally, the bats can come and go seasonally, with no disruptions to their natural behaviors, and the fungus can be eliminated during the summer while the bats are absent.
Beginning in 2010 we began to talk about this concept internally at The Nature Conservancy. At first we talked quietly as it’s a big, risky project which sounded a little crazy to our deeply scientific sensibilities. Fortunately the more experts we engaged and solicited opinions from, the more confidence we had that we were on the right track, and we could begin talking about it louder.
Now here we sit in 2011. We’ve had official science advisory feedback. We’re very near to finalizing the design and soliciting bids for construction. We’re developing MOUs and partnerships around the construction, management, and research related to the project. We’re on schedule to have the artificial cave in the ground and ready to go before hibernation season 2012-13.
The cave is designed to be largely a cold air trap to attract the colonial bat species which typically congregate in cold winter caves. We have made accommodations for a range of micro-climates within the cave to attract a diversity of species and in meaningful numbers. We’re locating the cave very near a major fall swarming site in efforts to reduce the colonization time, which is typically quite long at 5-7 years. The cave is designed to regulate its temperatures passively, not requiring artificial temperature enhancements which could be subject to mechanical or electrical failures. The entire structure will be underground and is truly designed to function like a natural cave; however, ours is waterproof and sealed from the natural environment, excepting the entrances which will allow bats and air to move in and out freely. Although the artificial cave is still under development, the accompanying sketch is likely very near what our final design will look like.
To us, this project really has no down sides. If the project is a complete success, bats will colonize the cave, and we will be able to protect bats from acquiring and succumbing to WNS. Bats will be saved, and the artificial cave can become a model that can be replicated across the nation. If it is a partial success and bats colonize the cave, but we are unable to control WNS, we still have a large facility that acts exactly like a natural bat cave, and we can use it as a field laboratory without fears of impacting a natural ecosystem. If the mitigation project is a complete failure and bats never colonize in meaningful numbers, we still have a cave-like environment in which to study Geomyces destructans and potential WNS control agents at scale. More importantly, however, we won’t be sitting in a post-WNS world wondering if this could have worked.
And that is ultimately what our decision-making process came down to. We did not feel that WNS mitigation projects shouldn’t be attempted because they are expensive and there is no guarantee of success. With the appalling risk of losing entire species of bats we felt it would be irresponsible to allow money to limit our best opportunity at gaining ground against the horrifying effects caused by White Nose Syndrome. The Nature Conservancy has been fundraising to build this artificial cave and more and more, people are signing on to support this hopeful prospect which is a rarity in the world of White Nose Syndrome. And with that spirit, we are building this cave. We have high hopes for success and are taking great measures to enhance our chances. And if this strategy fails as a mitigation project, we will hold our heads high knowing that we gave it our best shot.
Cory Holliday is the cave and karst program director for The Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. He is the chairman of the Tennessee Bat Working Group and co-founder of the Tennessee Cave and Karst Working Group.
Cory’s work has been focused on WNS since his home state of TN became a border state in 2009. The TN Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has been a contributor to the national WNS effort by supporting and participating in workshops and symposia, and by supporting research and contributing data, and logging many hours underground.
TNC has developed a partnership with Bat Conservation International (BCI) to develop a science advisory group for the project to ensure the highest chance of success. Plans are well underway for the project and TNC is planning to break ground in the spring of 2012. This project is designed as a pilot project which can be replicated anywhere. Future projects will benefit from the intense design planning process which is being undertaken by TNC and BCI to develop an efficient and effective hibernacula which will require very little maintenance and will passively maintain optimum hibernacula conditions.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged bat, bats, California, cave, cavers, caving, conservation, decontamination, Field work, fish and wildlife, fish and wildlife service, fws, hibernaculum, Lava Beds National Monument, Little brown bat, National Park Service, protocol, research, Townsend's big-eared bat, usfws, white nose syndrome, whitenosesyndrome, wildlife, wildlife disease, wns on September 7, 2011 | Leave a Comment »
Lava Beds National Monument in northern California is a hotspot for bats, with both high diversity (14 bat species) and abundance (thousands of individuals) of bats making use of the monument. The presence of so many bats is due to the wealth of habitat – with hundreds of caves to choose from, bats can be selective and find specific caves that suit differing maternal (summer) and hibernacula (winter) needs.
For years, Lava Beds staff have searched for Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) colonies in the summer and counted these bats as they hibernate in the winter. Recently, though, we have begun augmenting these efforts with the use of acoustic bat monitoring technology which will allow us to learn about other bat species in the monument. Acoustic monitoring has become a leading method for the study of bats due it being a highly efficient and non-intrusive means of collecting data on bat activity. As bats forage at night, they use echolocation for navigation and hunting, and we are using bat detectors which record these ultrasound frequencies that are not audible to the human ear. Specialized software can be used to view the bat calls, and in some cases, the characteristic shapes and frequencies of the calls can be used to identify bats to the species level.
We are hoping that by implementing long-term acoustic monitoring we will be able to characterize the occurrence and activity levels of our bats on a park-wide scale. In the process, we will also gain new knowledge on bat species that are present in Lava Beds but which we rarely encounter in caves, such as the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and other species of the Myotis genus. This knowledge could serve as a baseline for determining the impact of white-nose syndrome in the event that it reaches the western United States. Additionally, this acoustic data can be analyzed to determine seasonal patterns in bat activity, which may reveal the timing of when bats go into and out of hibernation and contribute to understanding how the life cycles of bats may be influenced by environmental triggers. We are also collecting acoustic data from our migratory Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) colony to learn about the timing of the spring arrival and fall departure of the colony. Our acoustic monitoring efforts are largely in a pilot phase this year, and we are still refining our protocols, but we hope to fully implement our acoustic program in 2012.
Shawn Thomas works as a Physical Science Technician at Lava Beds National Monument in northern California, where he has been stationed since 2009. He is part of the cave management program at Lava Beds and supports a variety of projects in the Resource Management Division. Shawn’s primary focus is on bat monitoring and bat management, and he serves as the monument’s representative in collaborating with agencies and researchers on white-nose syndrome and bat research.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged bat, bats, conservation, Field work, fish and wildlife, fish and wildlife service, fws, Great Smoky Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Indiana bat, Indiana State University, National Park Service, research, usfws, white nose syndrome, whitenosesyndrome, wildlife, wildlife disease, wns on August 25, 2011 | 1 Comment »
In late 2010, I discovered this blog and began to correspond with Ann, with the USFWS, about WNS and bats, and during early 2011 she connected me with Dr. Joy O’Keefe, with Indiana State University, so we could arrange an internship for me during the summer. This June, I traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to observe and assist with Dr. O’Keefe’s research on the effects of prescribed fire on roosting habitat of the Indiana bat. It all seemed a bit daunting at first: learning how to mistnet to catch bats, perform radio telemetry to track bats, and properly decontaminate gear to protect the bats, all with new people, but my experience proved to be very enjoyable and rewarding.
My internship and the people I had the pleasure and privilege of working with taught me much about North American bats, research methods used to study them, the demands and uncertainties of field work, and how to orient oneself in the wilderness. My internship increased my appreciation not only for bats, but for many types of wildlife and the Smoky Mountains in general. I came home from the Smokies proud to have helped with a study concerning bats and with implications for conserving the endangered Indiana bat and determined to continue learning about and helping bats and other wildlife. I am very grateful to Ann for helping me to organize this internship and to Dr. O’Keefe, her graduate student, and her three technicians for being so willing to have me and for teaching me so much and answering all my questions.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged bat, bats, conservation, decontamination, fish and wildlife, fish and wildlife service, flickr, fws, hibernaculum, National Park Service, National Speleological Society, protocol, research, Townsend's big-eared bat, United States Forest Service, usfws, USGS NWHC, white nose syndrome, whitenosesyndrome, wildlife, wns on August 4, 2011 | Leave a Comment »
While presenting at the 2011 National Speleological Society (NSS) Convention in Glenwood Springs, CO a few weeks ago, I joined bat researchers from USGS, National Park Service, USDA Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division working with Townsend’s big-eared bats (Corynorhinus townsendii) near Marble, Colorado.
The site was an abandoned mine, protected by a gate, and home to a maternity colony of over 700 Townsend’s big-eared bats. These bats are a state species of concern in Colorado and several other western states. I love big-eared bats, they are some of my favorites- I’ve worked with Rafinesque’s in the eastern United States, so this night was particularly exciting for me. Not only was I about to see my first western species, it was a big-eared bat to boot!
We hiked up to the mine site, gear in tow. Tonight the goal was to capture about 40 bats to which the researchers would apply pit tags. Just like the tiny devices for our pets that veterinarians can scan to help find a lost dog or cat’s home, the researchers hope that they will be able to scan hibernating bats this winter and determine where the bats from this specific maternity colony go to hibernate.
The research crew got busy setting up the mist net outside the maternity colony site, got their data sheets and supplies for pit tagging and decontamination between bats ready to go, and we all fended off mosquitos as the sun set over the beautiful Crystal River valley.
It wasn’t very long until bats started swirling around inside the gate and slipping between the bars and off into the night in search of small moths (the big-eared bats’ favorite) or the occasional beetle, fly or wasp. Suddenly the mist net was quivering.”We’ve got one!” one of the technicians whispered, and darted off to quickly remove the bat.
As she deftly untangled the tiny bat from the filament of the mist net, I snapped a few photos. Before long another bat hit the net. And another. The technicians worked quickly and quietly to remove the bats from the net, place them in soft cloth bags, and hand them off to the researchers working just down the hill.
The researchers- including USGS Research Biologist Paul Cryan (one of the leading WNS researchers) and National Park Service Wildlife Veterinarian Kevin Castle start working up the bats. Gently removing them from their bags, they jot down a few notes and quickly insert the small pit tag under the skin on their back before placing them back in the bag for a few moments to recover before they are released.
This winter, when surveying known Townsend’s hibernacula, researchers will scan the bats with a handheld device to detect any pit tagged bats. This will help biologists develop a better understanding of these bats- where they go to hibernate in the winter before they return to the maternity roost high in the hills the following season to give birth and raise their single pup. Not much is known about the natural history of this bat, or many other bats for that matter. White-nose syndrome has thrust this dearth of knowledge about these unique mammals into the forefront. It’s now a race against time to figure out as much as we can about bats, like the Townsend’s big-eareds, before it is too late.
White-nose syndrome has not been detected in Colorado yet. An additional ray of hope- Virginia big-eared bats (a close cousin of the Townsend’s) do not seem to be suffering the same fate as other hibernating bat species in eastern North America when WNS arrives in their hibernacula. We remain hopeful that environmental conditions will slow the spread of the fungus and WNS to western states, and that some bat species (like the Virginia big-eareds in the east) will be less susceptible to this devastating disease.
This night we needed to capture about 40 bats and insert pit tags. To me, coming from the Northeast and the epicenter of white-nose syndrome, this seemed a daunting task. I’ve been out on nights mist netting and feeling lucky to capture a few bats. Bats were still emerging from the site and hitting the net when a quick count netted 43 bats. Extra bats? My heart soared!
The technicians quickly pulled down the nets and freed the additional bats, “It’s your lucky night, little girls.”
To see more photos, please visit our WNS Flickr collection.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Appalachian Mountains, bat, bats, conservation, Field work, fish and wildlife, fish and wildlife service, fws, Great Smoky Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Indiana bat, Indiana State University, Nantahala National Forest, research, usfws, white nose syndrome, whitenosesyndrome, wildlife, wns on August 4, 2011 | 3 Comments »
A few months ago I posted about a high school student, Frances, who had contacted me with an interest in WNS. Not long after, I started corresponding with another student, Ashley Saulsberry, in Tennessee. Ashley was also interested in WNS and what she could do to help. I connected Frances and Ashley, both of whom were working on school projects related to WNS. I also put Ashley in touch with a good friend and colleague of mine, Joy O’Keefe. Joy is an Assistant Professor and bat researcher at Indiana State University. Some of Joy’s work takes her to east Tennessee to work with Indiana bats in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had hoped that Ashley could get out in the field with Joy and see some of the work bat researchers are doing up close. Joy and Ashley worked together and were able to provide Ashley with an opportunity to spend several weeks in the field, doing an internship on one of Joy’s research projects. Here Joy talks about the excitement of working with this extremely bright and wonderful young scientist.
In January, I received an email from Ashley Saulsberry, a high school senior in middle Tennessee. Because of her concerns over the impacts of white-nose syndrome, Ashley expressed an interest in helping with bat research. I was intrigued by the prospect of taking on an intern who was so young, but already so committed to science that she was willing to volunteer to work with someone she’d never met. When we chatted by phone, I gave Ashley the usual list of admonitions about the dangers and stresses of field work, but she was undaunted and she committed to joining me in the field. Ashley decided she would like to assist on a project on the effects of prescribed fire on Indiana bat roost habitat in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
When Ashley arrived at our field house in the Great Smoky Mountains National Parkin early June, my graduate student, three technicians, and I were already immersed in field work. We were netting several nights a week and using radio telemetry to locate Indiana bat maternity roosts every day. Our field house was already cramped and Ashley had to bed down on an air mattress, but she did not complain. Ashley didn’t get much sleep the first few nights anyway, as we would roll in from netting around 3 am only to start tracking the next morning. On her second night with us, Ashley got to see her first Indiana bat – a very pregnant adult female captured on the Nantahala National Forest. As my technician Katherine activated the radio transmitter, she told Ashley to pay attention to the beep because it was a magic beep that would lead us to a roost tree. The next day, with my guidance, Ashley tracked the female, following the magic beep to a large dead pine along the lakeshore. This maternity tree really became Ashley’s tree, as she visited it with each of my technicians and was present for most of the emergence counts. The colony swelled from 40 to 75 bats, so each emergence count was more exciting than the one before it. When she left us near the end of June, Ashley immortalized the tree with a drawing on our white board.
With the WNS decontamination protocols and DNA/hair samples for every bat, running the table at a mistnet site has become a complex endeavor. Because Ashley did not have her rabies shots, taking down data and manning the table became her job when we netted for bats. All of us were impressed with her ability to multitask, keeping data and equipment straight when two or three people were calling out weights, forearm measurements, and times for new captures. Ashley enjoyed this aspect of the job, and I think she learned the importance of being diligent about data collection.
For my crew and me, a novel part of having a young scientist in our midst was watching her interests emerge and evolve over the short time that she was with us. Ashley came to the mountains for bats, but I think she left realizing that she was even more fascinated with things that creep and crawl. There was no invertebrate, reptile, or amphibian that did not excite her. On a rainy night when we couldn’t net for bats, Ashley was thrilled when I suggested a herp walk down the trail and even more thrilled to find slugs, a garter snake, and dusky salamanders. From then on, whenever one of us found a cool insect, our first thought was to show it to Ashley. Weeks after she’d left, my technician Joey was still saying, “If Ashley were here, she’d really like this spider…praying mantis…beetle.” When I returned home for a few days, I grabbed a textbook on freshwater invertebrates to bring back to Ashley; in the few days she had left with us, Ashley devoured as much of the book as she could.
My experience with Ashley gave me great hope, because Ashley had a heightened appreciation for creatures, including bats, which many people think of as undesirable. I think her father, an avid caver and nature buff, played a big part in fostering this appreciation in Ashley. I hope that I helped to further Ashley’s interests, while also teaching her a little about how to ask and answer research questions. Ashley taught me that a little enthusiasm can go a long way – my crew and I still miss her curiosity and fervor for the natural world.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged bat, bats, cave, cavers, caving, conservation, decontamination, fish and wildlife, fish and wildlife service, fws, hibernaculum, research, usfws, white nose syndrome, whitenosesyndrome, wildlife, wildlife disease, wns on April 6, 2011 | 4 Comments »
In the middle of a tough hibernation season for bats, it is great to hear some good news. With several new states and a third Canadian province confirming a number of new WNS sites in 2011, Missouri remains hopeful that the disease will not take hold. I was fortunate enough to be invited to assist in some Indiana bat and WNS surveys with Missouri Department of Conservation resource scientist Tony Elliot and cave biology assistant Shelly Colatskie earlier this year. Tony was kind enough to offer this update after MDC’s winter survey season.
We have wrapped a busy winter of cave survey efforts here in Missouri. Our focus this winter has been on conducting bat counts at our main Indiana bat hibernation sites and surveillance for signs of white-nose syndrome.
I look forward to these surveys because they are a chance to get out in the field, visit different caves throughout the state, and (best of all) see a bunch of bats. However, the need to conduct WNS surveillance added a sense of trepidation to my outlook heading into this year’s surveys. We documented the presence of the fungus associated with WNS at a couple of locations in Missouri last spring and therefore expected to see some signs of the disease this winter. We adjusted the timing of our surveys a bit to give ourselves the best chance of seeing signs of WNS if it was present, stocked up decontamination supplies, and slowly began surveys in mid-December hitting full stride in early February.
Despite quite a bit of snowfall for this part of the country, we were able to conduct all of our surveys as planned with no major problems (yes – that means there were some minor problems, but no need to go into details here). We soon tired of the smell of bleach and other decontamination cleansers, but were encouraged by seemingly stable bat numbers and no signs of WNS. We did send a few samples in to the lab for testing, but they all came back negative for both the disease and presence of the fungus. Also, we have not received any reports of bats dying outside of caves in Missouri.
So, for now, the news out of Missouri is good. We could still pick up signs of the fungus again this spring, but “our” bats are becoming active and we would be very surprised to see any WNS mortality this spring. Also, the preliminary results of our bat counts indicate that bat numbers are probably stable compared to surveys conducted two years ago.
Earlier I mentioned looking forward to these surveys for several reasons; the other big reason is the people that I get to interact with during this work. I get to go out into the field with land managers from within my own agency and partner agencies throughout the state. I also work with private land owners and citizens who are involved in cave conservation and protection. All of these individuals are a tremendous help during the surveys, whether allowing us access to or guiding us through a site we could not do this work without them. Additionally, the folks that go into the field with us consistently provide different perspectives, good challenging questions, and good humor to our work. We appreciate all of the assistance and look forward to the next survey period, hoping against hope that WNS continues to spare Missouri’s bats.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged bat, bats, conservation, fish and wildlife, fish and wildlife service, fws, usfws, white nose syndrome, whitenosesyndrome, wildlife, wildlife disease, wns on February 28, 2011 | Leave a Comment »
To say it can sometimes be a personal challenge to remain positive while working on WNS would be an understatement.
We often hear “is there any good news?” when it comes to WNS. Usually, the positivity in this work comes from our partnerships with other federal, state and tribal agencies and our research, university and NGO partners.
Occasionally something amazing happens and we are reminded that there are a lot of people who really care about bats and what we do. Guest blogger Ella Rowan talks a little bit about being inspired to continue her work with WNS.
In January 2011, I was alerted to a post written on this blog. The post excerpt was written by a high school student, Frances, who lives in my state of Washington. Frances had read about WNS in a recent National Geographic article and instantly became impassioned about educating people about the disease and bats.
Ann, with the USFWS, helped connect Frances and me via email and eventually through a phone conversation. We discussed bats, WNS and ways we could educate the public. Frances told me about the letters she had written to numerous magazines and journals….one of which was recently published by Capital Press . I left the conversation with hope. We all see the disconnect between people and nature in the younger generation, so it was very uplifting to see a young person so impassioned by wildlife…especially one who was willing to take action to solve a problem.
Frances told me about her new friend Ashley from Tennessee, whom she met due to their shared grass-roots efforts surrounding WNS education. I spoke with Ashley and was able to learn about the work she is doing through her high school to raise awareness. Both of these young women are an inspiration and bring glimmers of positivity to what has been over 5 years of bad news. Thank you Frances and Ashley!
I suspect many people have been equally touched by the WNS story and are willing to take action if given the opportunity and guidance. Nationwide, how can we better utilize citizen efforts to help bats and other wildlife?
Ella Rowan is a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.