Scientists say they are finding substantially more bats this year in several New York caves that were among the first hit by White-nose Syndrome. The higher number offer a “glimmer of hope amid a scourge” that has killed more than 5.7 million North American bats since 2006, The Associated Press reports.
|Little brown myotis. ©Bat Conservation International
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reported increased numbers of little brown myotis in three out of five upstate New York hibernation caves where WNS was first discovered in 2006. The largest cave saw an increase from 1,496 little browns last year to 2,402 this winter, the AP said.
The survey also found that statewide losses of once-common little brown myotis remain at about 90 percent.
“Scientists caution that it’s far too early to tell if this is the start of a trend or merely a statistical blip,” the wire service noted. But, it added, “there are hopes this is an early sign that bats can adapt to a disease that has spread to 19 states and Canada.”
“While we remain cautiously optimistic of encouraging trends for some species seen more recently, it will likely take several years before we fully know how to interpret this,” the department’s Kathleen Moser told AP.
WNS, caused by a fungus, has raced across northeastern North America and was confirmed in Alabama and Missouri this year. Mortality rates of almost 100 percent are reported at some sites. Scientists predicted in 2010 that the WNS death toll was so catastrophic that regional extinctions among little brown myotis were likely in parts of the Northeast.
New York state bat biologist Carl Herzog told AP that the one-year increase in little-brown populations at the three caves could be due, at least in part, to biologists missing some bats in earlier counts and/or to new bats moving into the caves.
Nonetheless, the Associated Press reports, “the possibility that bat populations could adapt to the fungus has long been the hope of scientists.”
“That’s what the perfect scenario would be: that the area that was first hit would be the first to recover because they would have had more time to adapt to the pathogen,” said Beth Buckles, an anatomic pathologist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.
Confirming that, she told AP, will require much more data for additional years.
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