Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cities in Midwest come to rescue of bats threatened by fungus in rural areas but not in cities

Ten cities across the Midwest are coming to the rescue of rural bat populations that are being killed off by white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by a fungus in the caves where they hibernate. Just one example: In the mountains of North Carolina, nine of the state's 17 species have been decimated. "Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has been found in 31 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces, killing millions of bats," Nick Wilson reports for the region's Mountain Xpress.

A big brown bat at the Bat Zone in
Pontiac. Detroit Free Press photo)
Bats play an important role in local ecosystems. They pollinate crops, disperse seeds, and keep down the insect population, notes mammalogist Katherine Caldwell of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that losing bats from the ecosystem could cost North American agriculture more than $3.7 billion per year.

The white-nose fungus kills bats in two ways: one direct, and one indirect. The direct way: when the fungus grows on bats while they're hibernating, it causes them to use twice as much energy as normal to maintain bodily functions. Bats must ration their energy carefully to make it to spring without eating, so the fungus can be fatal. The indirect way: the fungus irritates the bats so much that sometimes they wake up and leave the cave in the middle of the winter. The disoriented bats often starve.

Bats that roost in urban buildings are typically not affected by the fungus, so the Midwestern cities are giving rural bats a home. In Michigan, some bats that wandered away from their caves in winter have ended up in downtown Pontiac. The Organization for Bat Conservation is welcoming them with Bat Zone, a 10,000 square-foot center for preservation and education, John Wisely reports for the Detroit Free Press. He says it's part of an effort in "10 cities around the Midwest" but doesn't name them. We're asking around.

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