Update: Project helps prepare for White Nose Syndrome
White Nose Syndrome (WNS) strikes in the winter, killing bats while they hibernate, so a team of wildlife biologists, with funding from the FWCP, is identifying important over-wintering habitat.
While WNS has not been confirmed in B.C. yet, it is only a matter of time. Biologists with Zonal Ecosystem and Wildlife Consultants Ltd., and the Province of B.C., are pointing to a glimmer of hope, in the Peace Region. Elsewhere in North America, bats tend to hibernate together in large numbers in caves or abandoned mines so if the fatal fungus strikes, fatalities can be catastrophic. In the Peace Region biologists are finding evidence that bats may over-winter in smaller groups in cracks and crevices. This could reduce the speed of WNS spread once it hits B.C. Of the 15 hibernacula detected in the winter of 2016 – 2017, all but one were in rock cracks or crevices.
“While smaller congregations of bats may help against the spread of WNS, the task for us to locate these small-scale hibernacula, dispersed widely across the landscape, is very difficult, especially with our winters,” says wildlife biologist Inge-Jean Hansen. “We’ve learned that monitoring potential hibernacula with acoustic detection equipment in the late fall and the early spring, may be better method for detecting Myotis species’ hibernacula than setting up our equipment in the depths of winter when only Big Brown Bats are generally active.”
There are eight species of bats in the Peace Region, and five over-winter: Northern Myotis, Little Brown Myotis, Long-eared Myotis, Long-legged Myotis, and the Big Brown Bat. Of these the biologists are most concerned about the Northern and Little Brown Bats since they are both susceptible to WNS and are federally listed as endangered.
The 2017 – 2018 data will be shared with the provincial and federal governments to determine if there are protection measures that can be implemented for high-priority hibernacula sites.
Williston Reservoir bat ecology program
Bats are integral to healthy ecosystems, yet little is known about bat populations, habitat requirements, and threats to bat species around the Williston Reservoir. Across North America bats are experiencing precipitous population declines due to a devastating disease, Whitenose Syndrome (WNS), warranting two bat species in northern B.C. to be federally-listed as endangered. Because WNS strikes in the winter, killing bats while they hibernate, our team seeks to identify important bat habitat and establish baseline winter bat data to help monitor populations and inform future plans for dealing with WNS. The study will help answer critical questions about bat ecology in the Williston Reservoir.