Experts still looking for cause of mysterious bat die-offs

At a meeting next week, scientists will outline the best approaches for tackling white nose syndrome

By Alisa Opar

Credit: Al Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation

Investigations this summer might shed light on the problem. Bats can travel hundreds of miles between winter roosts and summer homes, called maternity roosts, and not all residents of one summer colony winter together. This behavior may be spreading an infectious agent, or there may be something deadly at a maternity roost. To find out, researchers may visit summer colonies to count bats as they exit at dusk to feed and study environmental conditions there. “We’ll go back to these areas and see if there are any bats left,” says Robyn Niver, a US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.

Little brown bats are suffering the biggest losses, but Indiana, eastern pipistrelle, northern long-eared, and small-footed bats are also dying. Wildlife managers are especially worried about Indiana bats because they’re endangered. “I’ve spent my entire career looking at Indiana bats, and we were just thinking we might be able to get them off the [endangered species] list,” says Hicks. But he’s optimistic about the widespread efforts to find the answer. “This level of support is what it will take to find out what’s killing bats.”

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