White-nose syndrome expands range
Thursday, Apr 06, 2017 06:00 am
As deadly white-nose syndrome continues to kill off bats in Canada and the United States on its westward march, an Alberta expert suspects the fungus that causes the disease may come to Alberta from the west, not the east.
Robert Barclay, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Calgary, believes it’s just a matter of time before the disease is found in this province, but one of his big questions is how fast the disease will be able to move across the prairies.
Based on confirmation of the disease in Washington State last year – the only western area so far – Barclay said bat movement routes between the western and eastern sides of the Rockies will be important to monitor.
“My guess, and it is just a guess at this point, is that if the fungus reaches Alberta it will more likely come from the west, assuming the finding in Washington was indicative of the establishment of the disease there,” he said.
“There are a number of us working to determine where the most likely routes of movement across the mountains are.”
White-nose syndrome is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd). It’s responsible for the deaths of millions bats in the United States and Canada since its discovery in New York State in 2006.
In some areas there have been declines in winter bat numbers of greater than 90 per cent.
Two weeks ago, white-nose syndrome disease was confirmed in Nebraska after several dozen dead bats were discovered during a survey of a mine in Cass County. Then last week, it was announced the fungus Pd was detected in Texas for the first time.
Last week’s announcement of Pd being found in Texas brings the total number of states with the fungus to 33. Of those states, 30 have been confirmed with white-nose syndrome. The disease has been confirmed in five Canadian provinces.
White-nose syndrome affects bats during hibernation, causing the animals to awaken often and use up fat reserves they need to survive through winter. They may also emerge from hibernation too early and starve or freeze to death.
The other big question Barclay has is how different are wintering behaviours for bats in the prairies and do those differences suggest the fungus will be moved faster or slower?
“The fungus will encounter new species of bats and a very different hibernation situation, as far as we can tell,” he said.
“Many small groups of bats in little crevices, rather than the huge aggregations of bats in large caves as are found out east. There’s lots of basic biology questions we still need answers to.”
Parks Canada officials say no evidence of white-nose syndrome has been found in Banff, Yoho or Kootenay national parks at this time.
“Before white-nose syndrome began to decimate bat populations, little was known about bats in the mountain national parks,” said Tania Peters, a spokesperson for Parks Canada.
“The threat served as a catalyst for bat inventory, and today data is being used to help Parks Canada better understand which species we have here and where they live in Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks, so we can work to protect them and prevent further spread of WNS.”