Study shows that bats eat more at bug buffets, which may help them survive White-nose syndrome.
Austin, Texas (Mar. 23, 2023) — Little brown bats (Myotis lucifigus) suffering from the devastating disease White-nose syndrome (WNS) greatly increased foraging activity at artificial bug buffets, according to a new research paper authored by Bat Conservation International’s scientists published in Ecological Solutions and Evidence. Scientists are hopeful that providing artificial bug buffets near winter hibernation sites will help bats increase their fat reserves before and after hibernation, helping them survive the disease.
Hibernation, which allows animals to survive cold long winters without food by literally chilling out, is especially risky for bats suffering from WNS. The disease disrupts this process, causing bats to wake up during hibernation, often resulting in premature loss of fat and leading to starvation, dehydration, and ultimately death.
Bat Conservation International’s study is a unique and first-of-its-kind experiment targeted at improving conservation efforts for winter colonies of bats facing the threat of WNS. It is non-invasive and provides a stable and targeted food supply during the fall and spring when insects are less abundant.
“We found that if we created all-you-can-eat bug buffets for bats, they ate 3-8 times more than normal,” said Winifred Frick, Chief Scientist for Bat Conservation International. “Our hope is that bats eat more, accumulate more fat, and recover from WNS more quickly.”
Considered one of the worst wildlife diseases in modern times, WNS has caused severe declines in several species of North American hibernating bats, including the little brown bat. Once the most common bat in North America, this species has lost over 90% of its population due to WNS. Because bats are a critical component of healthy ecosystems, providing billions of dollars of ecosystem services annually, this work to find creative solutions to offset the impacts of WNS is imperative.
“This is promising research that can lead to practical and scalable conservation solutions for energy companies to consider in their territories to address the threat of WNS to bats in North America,” said Christian Newman, technical executive for Endangered and Protected Species at EPRI.
This study set up light lures to create artificial bug buffets near winter hibernation sites in Michigan where little brown bats are still fighting WNS. Bat Conservation International scientists wanted to know if bats would forage at artificial bug buffets and were able to measure bat activity and foraging activity at these sites by recording and counting little brown bat echolocation calls and feeding buzzes emitted by bats when foraging. They compared these numbers against bat activity and foraging activity at control stations (where there were no bug buffets) and found that indeed, bats were not only coming to the bug buffets, but were also foraging at them at much higher rates.
“Our ultimate goal is to help bats suffering from WNS to survive the long winters, and to emerge in the spring with the fat they need to go on,” said Frick. “The results of this study give us the confidence to say that investment in increasing the number of insects available to bats near their winter homes makes sense as a strategy to combat this disease.”
The release of this report comes as bats prepare to emerge from hibernation and female bats ready themselves to migrate to maternity roosts to give birth. In the long-term, BCI scientists hope to provide bug buffets and help bats survive near hibernation areas throughout their range.
Access the report in Ecological Solutions and Evidence here: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2688-8319.12217 Other contributors to this research include Craig K.R. Willis at the Department of Biology and Centre for Forest Interdisciplinary Research (University of Winnipeg); John DePue with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources; and Christian Newman with EPRI. Funding was provided by EPRI; the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Bats for the Future Fund with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southern Company, and Avangrid Foundation; and Bat Conservation International.
About Bat Conservation International:
Founded in 1982, Bat Conservation International is a global conservation organization dedicated to ending bat extinctions. Around the world, bats are under unprecedented threat from widespread habitat destruction and other stresses. Without concerted international action, bat populations could continue to fall, driving species to extinction. For more information, visit batcon.org.
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