March 22, 2013 6:00 pm
Updated: March 24, 2013 3:08 pm

White Nose Syndrome plaguing bats in the Maritimes

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White nose syndrome is making its way through the bat population, one cave at a time.

It first appeared in New Brunswick in 2011, but now researchers have found the fungus in all three Maritime provinces as of this year.

“It looks like a white, fuzzy, growth, typically on the nose,” said University of New Brunswick research curator Dr. Donald McAlpine.

He wasn’t surprised to find lots of that on the few bats left in Glebe Mine, near Sussex.

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His team of researchers is studying white nose syndrome as it sweeps through the bat population in the Maritimes, monitoring about eight to 10 known bat habitats, while counting and recording the data.

“Typically there would be 250-300 bats in this cave,” McAlpine told Global News while touring the cave. “At this point, this population is pretty much toast. We found less than 20 bats in here.”

In North America, the white nose syndrome was first spotted in New York in 2006.

The spores of the fungus came to North America from Europe and quickly spread through the eastern states.

“The biggest hit with the bat species was the little brown bat,” said researcher biologist Karen Vanderwolf, of the Canadian Wildlife Association. “[It was] once the most common bat in North America, so now it’s just been reduced. Millions of them have died.”

As the fungus grows it causes damage to the bat’s wings, which are critical to their survival throughout the winter.

Their wings help maintain water and blood pressure levels as the hibernate.

Because of the damage, the bats get thirsty and are waking up more frequently during their hibernation.

“They have to emerge early looking for food,” said wildlife pathologist Scott McBurney, of the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre. “But, the problem is that the insects that they would typically feed on aren’t around at this time of the year, and they die of a combination of usually starvation and/or hypothermia.”

Why should we care?

Bats are critical to the world’s biodiversity and for controlling the insect population,

“There have been some estimates done of the impact that the loss of bats will have on north american agriculture. at the moment, those estimates are at $3.7 billion a year,” McAlpine said.

“As humans, everything we do have repercussions and since it’s likely that we’re responsible for introducing this disease,” McBurney adds. “We become responsible then to try to mitigate it as much as possible.”

Over a year ago, it was suggested that three species of bats, including the little brown bat, be considered endangered.

Although that process can take a maximum of 90 days, the Dept. of Environment as to the status has yet to respond to that request.

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