British Columbia

U.S. group funds Canadian research treatments for deadly bat disease

How do the fat stores and cave conditions in British Columbia affect the likelihood of a bat, or a specific species of bat, to survive the deadly white-nose fungus? An inter-disciplinary, cross-border research group is looking to find out.

White-nose syndrome has been confirmed in Washington state and killed millions of bats in Eastern U.S.

Bats with white-nose syndrome sometimes behave strangely, leaving the cave during daylight hours or during winter when bats should be hibernating. (Peter Thomson/La Crosse Tribune/The Associated Press)

Two federal U.S. agencies are giving money to Canadian researchers trying to save local bats from a deadly fungus.

White-nose syndrome has already wiped out millions of bats in Eastern North America.

It was also documented in Washington state in 2016, prompting fears the disease could make its way into Western Canada.

"We don't know how white-nose is going to impact [Canadian] bats or where our populations are going to be less after white-nose has moved through," said Cori Lausen, a bat biologist and a representative for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

$300K in funds

In total, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada will get about $300,000 Cdn.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service committed $100,000 US to help identify which species of bats are likely to be resilient to the rapidly-spreading disease.

The Wildlife Conservation Society says a second undisclosed U.S. federal organization contributed $150,000 US to develop and test a treatment strategy for white-nose syndrome in the Vancouver area in 2018.

The research team, which includes members from the University of Winnipeg as well as Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada, are trying to identify factors that might determine the likelihood of bat survival.

White-nose syndrome causes infected bats to wake up early from their winter hibernation and die from starvation, due to a lack of insects to eat, or from exposure while searching for food. Here, bat carcasses litter a cave floor. (Submitted by Don McAlpine/New Brunswick Museum)

Millions of bats killed

The disease grows in cold weather and usually presents as a fungus that grows over the bats' faces while they are at their most vulnerable and hibernating.

Bats are nocturnal predators that feed primarily on insects. If the population declines dramatically, Canadian crops and forests would likely sustain damage due to increased insect populations, according to Yvonne Dzal, a researcher at the University of Winnipeg's Bat Lab.

The U.S. Geological Survey says white-nose syndrome was first recorded in North America in the Eastern U.S. in 2006 and since then has killed millions of bats across 31 states and five Canadian provinces.

The USGS estimates bat populations have declined up to 80 per cent overall in the Eastern U.S.

With files from CBC reporter Bob Keating