ENGAGING ALBERTANS IN BAT CONSERVATIONCategory: 2017, Current, Grant, Land Use
Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an invasive fungal disease that kills bats. Spreading largely through bat-to-bat transmission, the disease has killed millions of bats in eastern North America while they hibernate underground during winter in damp places such as caves and mines.
WNS has recently spread to the west (Washington State) and we know comparatively little about western bats, which are characterized by high diversity — at least 9 species in Alberta, nearly twice the number of bat species found in the east. More work needs to happen in Alberta where bats are known to roost in relatively large cave clusters, to understand potential WNS impact on non-migrating species. Locating the places where bats spend winter (hibernacula) is also of vital importance. Knowing the ecology of the various bat species will help assess the risk WNS poses to bat biodiversity and inform solutions, e.g., special protection of critical areas, in advance of the disease’s entry.
WNS can kill up to 99 per cent of bats in hibernation sites. Mass die-offs will be catastrophic to biodiversity and ecosystem health because bat populations take a long time to recover. Bats are worth billions of dollars to the economy through their consumption of forest and agricultural pests, maintenance of ecosystem health, and facilitation of organic farming. Concern for bats is mounting as the cumulative effects of habitat destruction, energy development, industrial activities, and climate change and now WNS, are affecting their numbers.
WCS Canada, through the leadership of our bat expert Dr Cori Lausen, has been creating citizen science initiatives in Alberta for the past five years. They hope to successfully mobilize citizen science programs in Alberta that extend and strengthen their reach, and collaborate with and train biologists to confront this disease. They will expand our grassroots network of volunteers to locate hibernation areas (caves and mines) and nurseries (maternity roosts). Information collected by volunteers will close knowledge gaps and allow effective conservation and recovery planning if WNS hits as expected. By locating roosts and establishing citizen networks this project will both increase public knowledge and enable future prevention strategies that could reduce WNS impacts.