Working to save bats from White-nose Syndrome


By Kristen Pope

Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) populations have declined by more than 95% from White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that kills bats during hibernation. This species is facing extinction due to WNS, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on November 29, 2022 that the species is being reclassified as Endangered.

“Northern long-eared bats have simply been decimated by this disease. We’ve seen whole winter colonies disappear within just a few years once the fungus shows up,” says Dr. Emily Almberg, Bat Conservation International’s (BCI) Director of White-nose Syndrome Research.

BCI is working on solutions to help protect these bats.

Northern long-eared bat, J. Scott Altenbach

We continue to advance research to support the species that have been most impacted by WNS—Northern long-eared bats, tricolored bats, and little brown bats,” says BCI Chief Scientist Dr. Winifred Frick. “These species have declined by over 90% and we’re focusing our efforts on ensuring that surviving colonies have the habitat and protections they need to recover.”

Since it was discovered in New York state in 2006, WNS has swept across the country, and as of, November 2022, WNS was detected in 38 U.S. states and eight Canadian provinces, with the fungus that causes WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, detected or likely detected in five additional states. White-nose Syndrome rouses bats from hibernation repeatedly and causes them to expend energy during the winter months, depleting the vital energy stores they need to survive the winter. One solution BCI is working on is providing insect prey patches to improve foraging opportunities before the bats go into hibernation each fall, and then once again when they reemerge in the spring. To do this, the Fat Bat Project is testing ways to lure nocturnal insects so bats can forage near their winter roost areas. BCI is also studying how to manage vegetation to increase the abundance of insects to provide more food for bats.

Researchers with BCI and other organizations, institutions, and agencies, are also working on a range of other potential WNS solutions. BCI is teaming up with 39 partners across 22 different states to conduct research and implement conservation strategies to help protect these bats from extinction. Future potential solutions include developing a vaccine, finding ways to disinfect habitat, and modifying microclimates within the hibernacula. 

little brown bats with visible signs of White-nose syndrome, Michael Schirmacher

Since there is no cure, current conservation strategies aim to help bats survive and recover from WNS by enhancing foraging and roosting habitats. Encouraging Bat gardens is another way to help provide additional food for bats, especially when they include plants that attract moths.

In addition to these projects, Dr. Almberg says that studying remnant populations can help explain why certain populations or species of bats survive WNS when others do not. 

“There is still a lot the bats can teach us that may lead to new approaches or techniques to help the species that are struggling,” Dr. Almberg says.

With so much at stake, BCI and other researchers are working to examine every potential solution. “White-nose Syndrome is the biggest threat to hibernating bats in North America,” Dr. Frick says. “We continue to support and grow our research collaborations to test new ideas that could help bats.”

To support this crucial research, people can donate directly to BCI’s WNS program. “Donations directly support our ability to work on long-lasting solutions to ensure bat species don’t go extinct from WNS,” Dr. Frick says.

White-nose Syndrome