Museum scales back study on deadly bat fungus
'There are very few bats left,' according to Don McAlpine of the New Brunswick Museum
Researchers from the New Brunswick Museum will no longer be actively studying the white-nose fungus that has devastated the province's little brown bat, northern myotis and tri-coloured bat populations.
Don McAlpine, chair of the department of natural science at the museum, says there aren't enough bats to continue to track.
"We're trying to get stuff written up, rather than checking on some of these sites and monitoring bat populations once or twice a year, I'm probably going to change that to once every three years to track what's happening," McAlpine said in an interview on Information Morning Saint John.
"There are so few individuals left in this stage that it doesn't justify the time involved."
White-nose fungus has all but wiped out three out of seven common bat species in New Brunswick.
The disease has progressed throughout the province, leaving less than half of one per cent of the overwintering bat population.
"There are still some bats out there, but there are very few compared to what we started with in 2011 when the disease first occurred," said McAlpine.
"And at this stage it's wait and see."
A study of the region's caves in the spring of 2014 found just 22 bats, compared to 7,000 in 2011.
Many of the sites had no bats, but the presence of white-nose syndrome was still detected.
The fungus attacks the wings, feet and ears of the bats and causes them to lose bodily fluids.
Recovery a long way away
What's still unknown is whether the small numbers can hang on and develop a natural immunity to the fungal infection, or if the populations will disappear entirely.
"We're still seeing some live bats in their winter hibernacula, we're still getting reports of bats during the summer months, there's still a few bats in people's homes occasionally, but there are very few bats left," McAlpine said.
"The focus now revolves around minimizing mortality in bats in the summer months, and making sure their maternity roosts are not disturbed."
McAlpine encourages people to use non-lethal methods to remove bats, or wait until the end of the season before blocking their way inside.
People can minimize mortality in the winter by avoiding caves and old mine sites where the small number of surviving bats are hibernating.
The falling bat population is a problem for the province because bats are a natural form of pest control, McAlpine said.
The bats eat large numbers of moths and beetles, as well as mosquitoes.
The update comes in the middle of Bat Week — an international effort to raise awareness about bat conservation.