WNS Survivorship Project

If the spread of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) continues at the current pace in North America, there is a limited window of time to acquire critical ecological and bioenergetics information about bat species living in the north that can help explain white-nose syndrome vulnerability.


The Project:

Goal: To test the hypotheses that despite facing longer winters, bats adapted or acclimatized to potentially colder and drier hibernacula in northern parts of their range therefore could have higher survival during white-nose syndrome (WNS) invasion than those from southern populations where hibernaculum conditions favor more rapid growth of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome.

We will test this hypothesis by quantifying morphometric and bioenergetic traits, and hibernaculum environmental conditions for Myotis lucifugus (little brown bats) and other hibernating bats along a 1,500 km latitudinal gradient extending from the 60th parallel to the 47th.

"Understanding the potential of bats to persist and recover in WNS-affected areas is a critical priority in light of evidence that some bats survive the winter with WNS- the question is why and how.” Dr. Cori Lausen, WCS Canada

Objectives, Methodology & Geography: WNS alters the physiology and bioenergetics of bat hibernation, and ultimately leads to increased arousal frequency, depletion of fat reserves, and bat mortality due to inevitable starvation. This project expands existing research targeting the western contiguous US, north into western Canada to evaluate high-latitude sites that we hypothesize may be WNS refugia. We will collect field data on bat bioenergetic traits (e.g., metabolic rates, arousal frequency) and hibernation environmental conditions (temperature and humidity) from three western sites to establish a north-south gradient (60˚N to 47˚N) of observations of M. lucifugus, a species that has suffered mass declines from WNS in the East. Data will be collected on other hibernating species opportunistically. This information will be combined with a bioenergetic WNS survivorship model based on host energetics, pathogen growth rate, and environment that was developed by Key Collaborator, D. Hayman.

Anticipated Outcomes: Understanding the potential of bats to persist, recover, and re-populate WNS-affected areas after Pd-invasion is a critical priority in light of evidence that some bats survive the winter with WNS. There has been progress in development of chemical and biological treatments for WNS that could be applied to bats during winter. However, such treatments could be counter-productive, especially if some proportion of bats survive the winter without treatment. If some bats survive and possess physiological traits that favor survival, then the most urgent priorities for management should be actions that support reproduction by these survivors. Our project is critical for understanding survival potential of bats in the North and setting priorities for management action.

Funders and Collaborators:

This project is a joint project between Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (Dr. Cori Lausen), Wildlife Conservation Society-Wildlife Health Program (Dr. Sarah Olson), and the University of Winnipeg (Dr. Craig Willis and Yvonne Dzal) with collaboration from Texas Tech University, Massey University (Dr. David Hayman), Montana State University and Conservation Science Partners.

This important research project has been graciously funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Alberta Conservation Association, Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program-US Department of Defence.

This is a multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency project that is scheduled to run from 2016-2020.

 

For more information visit:   www.science4bats.org


 

Photo Credits:  Header photo- Heather Gates; Center photo- Erin Low

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Contact Information
Address: Western Canada Bat Conservation Program; Kaslo, British Columbia | wcsbats@wcs.org |