Friday, December 3, 2010

NJ Bat Population Continues To Collapse

Little Brown Bat
Last spring, in studies about White-Nose Syndrome in New Jersey, it was reported that the fungus has killed off about 90 percent of the state's bat population.

The devastation hit the largest hibernation spot for bats in New Jersey which is Morris County's Hibernia Mine.

Normally, as many as 30,000 bats would winter there, but the 2010 count found only about 1,700 alive. To make matters worse, many of those showed signs of infection, according to the state's Endangered and Non-game Species Program.

Despite their undeserved bad reputation, bats are crucial to ecosystems. They have a positive effect - especially for humans - through devouring insects, dispersing seeds, and pollinating flowers. The widespread loss of bats has potential ramifications for human health since the huge quantities of bugs hey consume includes ones that not only damage crops but also carry West Nile and other potentially fatal diseases.

Some scientists think humans who visit caves may inadvertently spread the fungus from cave to cave. To try and halt the spread, government agencies across the country have been closing access to caves and abandoned mines.

But there are massive die-offs in the U.S. due to the fungus that is commonly called "white-nose syndrome" because of the whitish powder that appears on the nose, ears and wing membrane of infected bats.

Geomyces destructans is a filamentous fungus of unknown origin and seems to be new to North America.

It was documented but not yet recognized as Geomyces destructans in 2006 at Howes Cave, New York. In 2007, people began to report that little brown bats were flying outside nearby caves during daylight in the midst of winter - something that should not be happening.

Little brown bats are smaller than a human thumb, and dependent on its two grams of stored fat to keep it alive through the cold season. Without hibernation, it will not survive and it being awakened even once can cost it a month's worth of fat. That is why NJ's bat hibernation locations are protected.

The little brown bat population is continuing to decline, with the numbers down 50% from last summer and 80% from 2008, according to the results of New Jersey's annual summer bat count.

Six species have the disease, one of which had been declared endangered long before white-nose syndrome. That is the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). Three others are at very high risk.

In New Jersey, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation has teamed with owners of 15 forest areas in the northwestern part of the state to create more habitat for bats.

The endangered Indiana bat roosts in summer under the loose bark of dead trees and switches those roosts every few days. Since dead and dying trees are often cut down, CWF works with landowners to girdle some trees to kill them so they provide more roost sites, or even to attach cedar shakes and other items to tree trunks to create roost spots.

Endangered Indiana Bat

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