Secondary Effects of White-nose Syndrome

Research Issue

Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) being checked for signs of WNS.Bats have been under siege from White-nose Syndrome, a catastrophic wildlife disease that has killed millions of bats over the past decade. Secondary effects of White-nose Syndrome – bats emerging from hibernation in poor health and failing to survive or breed – could further reduce or eliminate local remnant populations. Keeping bat populations viable is vital to population conservation and recovery. Northern Research Station research is exploring host-environmental interactions, primarily investigating movement ecology using landscape genetic approaches and habitat use with more traditional approaches, such as acoustic monitoring, to better understand how individual bats are using the landscape. Land management policies are currently focused on breeding sites (e.g., maternity roosts) and summer foraging habitats; this research would strengthen conservation activities by enabling land managers to address a full life-cycle approach to habitat use.

Bats are short-distance migrants; they will swarm around hibernacula during fall and spring. Understanding movement patterns and habitat use when bats migrate between these habitats is important and will give land managers the data they need to identify policies and actions that will reduce additional stress on surviving individuals that may be in a weakened state post-infection, and to ensure that successful reproduction occurs. Information gained will help land managers assess effects of activities on bat populations beyond the breeding season.

Our Research

Our research is focused on developing the science and tools required for bat conservation and recovery efforts in eastern United States, but results have implications for non-infected populations in the West, especially if the disease continues across the United States.  Information on bat behavior and habitat requirements during relatively unknown parts of the annual cycle will help managers and policy makers assess holistically the effects of current forest management activities and develop future sound management practices.

This research aligns with a national science strategy on Integrated Disease Management (IDM) to combat White-nose Syndrome. Research under this strategy is being directed at the three facets of the IDM triangle:

1. Host: Evaluation of host genetics, ecology, and demographics (survival and fitness) as they relate to disease impacts and response at the individual and landscape level.

2. Pathogen: Evaluation of pathogen genetics, ecology and microbial control (biological, chemical and physical).

3. Environment: Evaluation of pathogen and host interactions within the environment (at multiple scales).

Expected Outcomes

Our research effort is addressing secondary effects of White-nose Syndrome in a variety of ways and will develop information to guide habitat management with an eye on full life-cycle benefits, including:

  • Evaluation of whether bats are developing immunity to WNS (or adapting), and determine if the degree of disease-resistance may be related to the diversity of naturally occurring skin microbiota on bats, which may slow fungus growth.
  • Evaluation of seasonal movement patterns between wintering hibernacula and summer breeding habitat for northern long-eared and little brown bats using landscape genetic approaches
  • Evaluation of bat activity patterns and habitat use at large-scales using acoustic monitoring to better inform forest management practices. Our approach follows the North American Bat Monitoring Protocol.
  • Evaluation of bat activity patterns and habitat use around hibernaculum during fall swarm (breeding) and spring emergence (recovery period) – vital life-history periods.
  • Completing full genome mapping of the Northern Long-eared Bat so genetic information will be available to all researchers.  This information is not currently available.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

Research Partners

  • Last modified: October 27, 2020