The New York Times recently highlighted the work being conducted by Dr. Sarah Olson and her team to assess white-nose syndrome (WNS) and non-stationary changes on bat populations. WNS is caused by the fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans and is the most devastating disease currently impacting North American wild mammals. White-nose syndrome alters the physiology and bioenergetics of bat hibernation leading to increased arousal frequency and depletion of fat stores. Since the pathogen emerged in 2006, it has caused widespread mortality and threatened several species with extinction.
As bat populations decline and the species become listed, military activities face potential repercussions for use. As a result, the Department of Defense (DoD) sees bat recovery as important for the management of DoD lands.
In the project that was recently highlighted, Dr. Olson and her team collected bioenergetics and environmental data over the course of three field seasons. Bioenergetics data includes morphometrics, body composition, and torpid metabolic rates during hibernation. Environmental data was collected simultaneously to understand the variation in microclimate conditions experienced by hibernating bats. These data were then used to help iteratively parameterize a mechanistic WNS survivorship model that models the capacity of bats to survive hibernation given the bioenergetics disruptions caused by the fungal infection. The data collected was used to build integrated ecological niche and mechanistic WNS models using plausible future projected climates and land-cover change scenarios.
The end-user community will benefit from never-before measured data on western bat species’ bioenergetics central to WNS disease progression and species’ mortality. Findings on transferability and validity of the mechanistic WNS survivorship model will be disseminated to DoD collaborators, land managers, scientists, conservation groups, and the general public to guide strategic approaches to management of bat habitats and the implementation of potential mitigation strategies. This project is currently in its final year so look out for the Final Report in early 2020.