23 January 2012

Devastating fungal disease continues to spread among New Brunswick Bats

 

New Brunswick Museum researchers have discovered that White-nose Syndrome (WNS), the devastating fungus responsible for the deaths of thousands of bats in New Brunswick in 2011, has spread to new sites. New Brunswick Museum Research Curator of Zoology, Dr. Donald McAlpine, and UNB graduate student Karen Vanderwolf, began inspection of the bat’s winter hibernation sites several weeks ago. In their first round of visits to eleven caves and abandoned mines in southeastern New Brunswick, they found that WNS has spread from a single site in Albert County to an additional three sites in Albert and Westmorland Counties. It is still early in the hibernation season and while WNS often does not become evident until later in the winter, ten to thirty percent of the bats they examined at infected sites were already showing the fluffy white fungal growth on their muzzles or white spotting on their wings. These elements are signs of the usually fatal disease.

Dr. McAlpine and Ms. Vanderwolf made the first Maritime discovery of the fungal disease, White-nose Syndrome, in New Brunswick, in March, 2011. The one infected site discovered last year housed the largest concentration of hibernating bats in New Brunswick. Of the estimated 6,000 bats in the cave, ninety percent appear to have died.   Throughout eastern North America, more than 5.5 million bats have perished.  Scientists in the US have suggested that the regional extinction of New Brunswick’s most common bat species, the Little Brown Bat, could occur.   “It’s a wildlife tragedy” says McAlpine, “but not one without implications for humans”.   Bats consume countless insect pests and US researchers have estimated that the bat die-off will cost North American agriculture $3.7 billion dollars annually.

With funding provided by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund, US-based National Speleological Society, Parks Canada, and the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources,  McAlpine and Vanderwolf have started a multi-year program to track the spread and impact of White-nose Syndrome in NB bats.  Fieldwork and investigation of bat hibernation sites will continue over the next several months, followed by analysis and documentation at the New Brunswick Museum.

Although bats themselves are undoubtedly the main vectors for the disease, the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is urging recreational cavers to avoid entering caves and mines used by bats for hibernation. “We should do whatever we can to slow the spread of this disease” says Mary Sabine, DNR Wildlife Biologist handling the White-nose Syndrome file.   “Although bats are likely the main vector, it is also likely that the disease was introduced inadvertently to North America from Europe by humans” says Ms. Sabine.

The public is encouraged to call the New Brunswick Museum (506-643-2300/1-888268-9595) or DNR Fish and Wildlife Branch (506-453-3826) if they see day-flying bats during the winter (January-April).  Day-flying bats may indicate the presence of a WNS infected hibernation site in the area.

For further information:

Anne McHugh
New Brunswick Museum
Tel: (506) 643-2351
Toll-free: 1-888-268-9595
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.