Amid media announcements that the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats has spread to California, and growing public concern, The Wildlife Society announced the most recent attempt to find a cure. On July 9, an article titled “Bacteria treatment helps bats survive white-nose syndrome,” suggested progress toward a cure. However, there is no evidence that human intervention can slow the spread or cure the disease. As I’ve reported, the best available studies from the Northeast indicate that population recovery at key sites is exceeding expectations, and that a cure is unnecessary, impractical to implement, and risks unintended negative consequences.
Several treatments appear to be effective in countering the infection in captive bats. However, when released the bats remain susceptible to reinfection and death. By releasing such bats near the end of the cycle, when only those with greatest genetic resistance remain, we would risk diluting the remaining gene pool, reducing the odds of survival, just the opposite of the intended goal.
Given the odds of unintended consequences, it may be fortunate that effective implementation of a cure in wild bat populations is so logistically hopeless as to be virtually inconceivable. We must not put funding opportunities ahead of bat needs. Finally, during this time of extreme stress, it is urgent that we recognize the importance of avoiding hibernation disturbance regardless of good intentions. I urge a reallocation of resources from cure-hunting to habitat restoration and protection, beginning with the most important hibernation sites.
I have shared my response with the The Wildlife Society and encourage others to politely do the same.
Book Review: Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats By Merlin Tuttle
Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats, edited by C.M. Butchkoski, D.M. Reeder, G.G. Turner, and H.P. Whidden. 2017, is a publication of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. Twenty-eight contributors cover a wide variety of conservation-relevant topics. It summarizes the key ecological and economic roles of bats and traces the history of bat research and conservation efforts in Pennsylvania, which has one of America’s finest records of conserving bats.
A Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement is reported to have gained beneficial results. However, the environmental review process does not cover most of the state’s species. And at least one of the state’s largest companies has refused to participate. The potentially serious, yet inadequately documented wind energy impacts on bats remain as unresolved threats. (more…)
Merlin has updated our White-Nose Syndrome resource page. As he explains, WNS has now spread from coast to coast despite our best efforts. There is no longer hope of stopping, slowing or finding a cure that can be effectively applied. It is time to focus on helping the survivors rebuild populations from resistant remnants. Further surveys to detect spread of WNS have become pointless. We can’t help except by strictly protecting weakened survivors from disturbance, especially during hibernation. Members of the National Speleological Society have been extremely cooperative in efforts to slow or stop WNS, even agreeing to cease activities in their favorite caves, including many that do not support bats. There is no longer justification for closure of caves not needed by bats. In fact permitting wider caver access increases opportunities for recognition and protection of caves of past importance to bats, where populations could be restored with protection. Many caves that once provided critical habitat for bats remain unprotected simply because they lost their bats so long ago, that their importance is no longer recognized. No one is better prepared to detect, report and help protect such sites than organized cavers, and it is time for governmental and private conservation organizations to maximize cooperation with this key group of concerned volunteers. In this update Merlin provides helpful guidance on recognition of long lost bat caves that could be restored and urges full collaboration.
Monitoring Impacts of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS): Decline and Stabilization in a Little Brown Bat Nursery Colony,
A Case History from New York
By Merlin D. Tuttle
A New York nursery colony of little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) offers a window of opportunity for monitoring the impact and hoped for recovery of this recently devastated species. The colony occupies seven four-chamber, nursery-style bat houses provided by Lew and Dorothy Barnes. The houses were mounted on two sides of their barn near Lake Erie in western New York in the spring of 1995. By July 16, 1997 they had attracted 1,075 little brown myotis. Often aided by professional biologists, regular emergence counts were made between 1997 and 2013, providing potentially invaluable baseline data on WNS-induced population impacts.
A Turning Point in Saving Bats from WNS By Merlin Tuttle
Given the extent and rate of spread of the fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans), which causes WNS in North America, it is time to admit that it can’t be stopped. It is here to stay, and further attempts to document or prevent its spread are more likely to exacerbate than alleviate bat mortality. The last thing that the relatively small numbers of survivors need now is more human disturbance during a period of critical stress. (more…)
Over the past year we’ve received numerous inquiries about the devastating impact of white-nose syndrome (WNS) and potential cures. Merlin is now convinced that the most important help we can provide is to leave hibernating bats strictly alone, improving the odds of survival for the most genetically resistant individuals who appear already to have begun the rebuilding process.
Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation is the most recent contribution by Merlin Tuttle to the world of bats. With over 50 years of in-depth knowledge and experience Merlin Tuttle, renowned bat expert, educator and wildlife photographer founded MTBC with one true goal in mind; teaching the world to understand and appreciate the vital contributions bats make to human beings and the world we live in.