British Columbia

White Nose Syndrome threatens B.C.'s bat populations, biologist says

After a bat was found near Seattle with deadly White Nose Syndrome, a conservation group has teamed up with cave explorers to find out if B.C.'s bats are also affected. The White Nose fungus can kill 99 or even 100 percent of a population it infects.

The White Nose Syndrome, caused by fungus, can kill 99 or even 100 percent of bats in an area

A file photo from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation shows a brown bat with white nose fungus in New York. (AP Photo/New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Ryan von Linden)

A biologist is worried B.C. bats could be at risk of extinction because the deadly fungus White Nose Syndrome has been detected in Washington State.

To get a better understanding of the situation, Cori Lausen, with the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada, is teaming up with cave explorers — spelunkers — to see if the fungus has spread to remote bat populations in this province.

"We have nothing confirmed from B.C., but on the other hand, we had a very warm spring, and bats emerged long before we actually knew White Nose was in the Seattle area," Lausen told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

"If it is here, we assume that there is a good chance it's along our coastline."

White Nose Syndrome causes white patches to grow on bats' noses and wings. It has killed more than six million bats in 28 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces since it was first discovered in eastern New York in the winter of 2006-2007.

The disease was thought to be confined to eastern North America, but hikers found a sick little brown bat about 48 kilometres west of Seattle in March.

Lausen says if the disease comes to B.C., "It's probably going to be devastating."

"At this point we can only go based on what we've seen on the eastern part of the continent," she said.

"We've got double the number of species that it could potentially affect, and what we've seen so far is … some of the places have been 99, 100 per cent kill rate when it gets into a hibernaculum where bats overwinter."

She says in addition to the ecological impact of major bat die-offs, there could be economic impacts to forestry and agriculture, as bats are the primary check on populations of insects at night — especially moths.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

Dave Critchley positions a roostlogger, a device that records bat ultrasound, in a cave. The BatCaver program relies on the help of B.C. and Alberta's spelunking community to look for bats affected by White Nose Syndrome. (Greg Horne)

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