Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 18 : Fall 2013 - Page 64

Where Have All of the Bats Gone? By Steve Agius A Disease Like No Other Since 2006, more than 5.7 million bats in the northeast have perished from White-nose syndrome, a disease that affects hibernating bats. Named for the white fungus that appears on the muzzle and other body parts of hibernating bats, WNS is associated with extensive mortality of bats in eastern North America. First documented in New York in the winter of 2006-2007, WNS has spread rapidly across the eastern United States and Canada, and as of this year, the fungus that causes WNS has been detected as far west as Oklahoma and Minnesota. Bats with WNS exhibit uncharacteristic behavior during cold winter months, including flying outside in the day and clustering near the entrances of caves. Bats have been found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers in and around caves and mines. In some caves 90 to 100 percent of bats have died from the disease. Many laboratories and state and federal biologists are investigating the cause of the bat deaths. A newly discovered fungus, Geomyces destructans, has been demonstrated to cause WNS. Scientists are investigating the dynamics of fungal infection and transmission, and searching for a way to control it. bat typically eats the equivalent of her entire body weight in insects each night (Bat Conservation International, 2013). Bat Conservation In Aroostook County Currently there are more than 300 previously used military bunkers on National Wildlife Refuges throughout the country. Over the course of the last three years, every National Wildlife Refuge that has bunkers in the northeast monitored the temperature and humidity within their bunkers. It was determined that the forty-three cold war era bunkers located at Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge in Limestone were the only bunkers that had the ideal conditions for hibernating bats in the entire northeast U.S. Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge has taken a lead role in the northeast U.S. in identifying the feasibility of providing bats with artificial hibernation sites for the winter months. The refuge began implementing a fourphase bat conservation project three years ago in an effort to help rapidly declining bat populations. The project is a collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Vermont Department of Fish and Game, the New York Department of Conservation, Bucknell University, the University of California-Santa Why We Should Care Cruz and the Center for Microbial Genetics. The project aims to (1) identify species of bats that occur in Aroostook Bats are essential to the health of our natural world. County, (2) examine the feasibility of providing artificial They help control pests and are vital pollinators and seed- hibernation sites to overwintering bats, (3) determine how dispersers for countless plants. Insect-eating bats provide to sterilize a hibernation site to prevent the spread of the pest-control services that save the U.S. agriculture industry WNS, and (4) attract bats to a steri