Nova Scotia

Annapolis Valley project could help boost declining bat population

Two university students have launched a new initiative in hopes of replenishing the dwindling bat population in the Annapolis Valley, while also learning more about the "misunderstood" mammal.

White-nose syndrome is believed to have wiped out 95% of bat population in Atlantic Canada

White-nose syndrome is fatal to most of the bats exposed to it. (Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

Two university students have launched a new initiative in hopes of replenishing the dwindling bat population in the Annapolis Valley, while also learning more about the "misunderstood" mammal.

"We're trying to get [bat boxes] out into the community so that we can support local bat populations by giving bats somewhere safe to sleep that's free from predators and disease," Taryn Muldoon, a second-year biology student at Acadia University, told CBC's Mainstreet on Friday.

The bat population in the Annapolis Valley has been decimated over the last 10 years after a fungal infection called white-nose syndrome appeared in Canada.

The fungus grows on any exposed skin on the bat and replaces muscle fibres and blood vessels, which causes tissue and electrolyte loss — killing the bats.

Zackery Pate and Taryn Muldoon, two Acadia University students, have launched the Annapolis Valley Bat Box Project. (Courtesy of Youth Partnership Initiative)

In recent years, the disease is believed to have wiped out 95 per cent of the bat population in the Atlantic provinces.

Three species of bats found in the region — the little brown myotis, the northern myotis and the tri-coloured bat — have all been listed federally as endangered due to white-nose syndrome.

"We've lost the majority of the bats that hibernate here in the province," Andrew Hebda, the retired curator of zoology at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, said in the interview with Mainstreet.

Hebda's been studying bats since the 1970s.

"We estimated that 25 years back, we had approximately 200,000 bats over wintering here. We figure it's probably in the vicinity of around 10,000 now," he said.

Andrew Hebda, the retired zoology curator at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, says bats play an important role in Nova Scotia's ecosystem. (CBC)

Hebda said bats are often "misunderstood" but serve an important role in Nova Scotia's ecosystem.

"In Nova Scotia, we estimated [bats] were consuming in excess of 60 metric tons of insects every single year and that's a lot of insects — things like mosquitoes, small midges and small moths," he said.

That's why Muldoon and Zackery Pate, a third-year environmental sustainability student at Acadia, launched the Annapolis Valley Bat Box Project.

The students, along with volunteers, have started building wooden bat boxes to serve as refuge for the population.

Quest for the best bat box

Pate, who came up with the idea, said the boxes will also provide more data about the winged mammals.

"We took a look at a few [types of boxes] and we have more in the works ... it's really about gathering the data once these are out and really analyzing what makes a bat box, a good bat box," he said.

The boxes must serve as a roost for bats to digest all the insects they eat at night, and also a place to stay warm and sleep during the day.

Muldoon said the team is trying to get instruments installed in some of the boxes to measure the temperature and humidity required for the bats.

The bat boxes have chambers inside so bats can 'hang out' and rest during the day. (Annapolis Valley Bat Box Project)

She said in an effort to get all the help they can, they've also partnered with some local high schools to build bat boxes.

"Education is a huge component of this project, because one really important way to support bats is engaging people about bats and the issues that they face and how amazing they are," she said.

With that in mind, the team created a two-hour educational webinar with bat experts, conservationists and those who help wild animals from across North America.

"That has been very important and that's something that we're still striving to move ahead with as we distribute the boxes," Muldoon said.

Volunteers Doug and Steve work on the bat boxes for the Annapolis Valley Bat Box Project. (Annapolis Valley Bat Box Project/Facebook)

"We also want to be distributing information about bats and other ways people can help them."

The webinar is expected to be available on their Facebook page next week. Those interested in watching the webinar can email the team directly.

So far, the team has built 30 bat boxes which will be distributed throughout the Annapolis Valley. 

Bat boxes can be requested by contacting the Annapolis Valley Bat Box Project.

Acadia University students are building "bat boxes" in order to help recover the devastated bat population in Nova Scotia. Retired zoology curator from the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History weighs in on the state of the bat population and how these kinds of initiatives can help. 13:06

With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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