It’s five years since white-nose fungus, the disease afflicting little brown bats, was first identified.
Last May, reacting to the fact that these bats are a critical link in the ecosystem, pollinating crops and controlling insect populations, especially those that threaten to wipe out entire forests, a national rescue plan was launched.
But latest news is not good. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated this week that 6.7 million little brown bats have died in 16 states and Canada as a result of the sickness, and they are concerned that the little brown bat, the northern long-eared bat and the tricolored bat may not survive. Mylea Bayless of Bat Conservation International comments:
We’re watching a potential extinction event on the order of what we experienced with bison and passenger pigeons for this group of mammals. The difference is we may be seeing the regional extinction of multiple species.Unlike some of the extinction events or population depletion events we’ve seen in the past, we’re looking at a whole group of animals here, not just one species. We don’t know what that means, but it could be catastrophic.
One ray of hope from Scott Darling, a biologist for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife :
There are bats that have survived over three years of white-nose syndrome, and we want to know how they survived, or if they will continue to survive, and if this is enough bats to .?.?. recover a population.
Mollie Matteson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Vermont adds:
“They’re surviving in places where the fungus has been present, and present for the last five winters. I’m cautiously hopeful that eventually these animals can be recovered.”
But the latest figures suggest that there aren’t enough survivors to save the species. From the Washington Post:
In Pennsylvania, where the mortality rate of the most common bats is nearly 100 percent, farmers and homeowners are showing concern, said Greg Turner, an endangered-mammals specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
With 95 percent mortality, there’s little hope that the little brown bats will survive in the state, but Turner isn’t giving up on saving them. “I’m going to plug forward all the way to the bitter end, if there is a bitter end. Hopefully, there won’t be,” he said.