Going to bat for endangered dwellers of darkness

October 30, 2015

It is the time of year when many of us embrace the darkness a little tighter than usual and while our eyesight is adjusted to the shadows it’s a perfect opportunity to bring attention to species’ that rarely get the spotlight.

It’s no secret that we are heavily biased toward the protection of majestic, colourful and charismatic species. The supreme power of a polar bear or the wide eyes of awolf pup pull us in like a magnet. Other species though, are just tough to look at either due to their aesthetic shortfalls (look up the blob fish) or because they mainly come out at night….like bats.

Turning public gaze and compassion toward bat conservation can be a challenge despite their incredibly significant roles in the natural and agricultural landscapes.
Bats are incredibly significant consumers of flying insects, some eating 70% of their body weight in a single night. Their consumption of crop pests in the US and Canada is estimated to be worth somewhere between $5 billion and $70 billion dollars annually. Without them, more insects would undoubtedly lead to greater agricultural insecticide use

A short decade ago, the fungal pathogen White Nose Syndrome (WNS) appeared in eastern North America and began decimating bat populations. The impacts to bats have been lightning fast with some with populations dropping an estimated 80%.  What’s worse, the fungus is spreading west.
Researchers expect to see it in Manitoba within 1-3 years.

In anticipation, two susceptible species (Little brown bats and Northern long eared bats) have been listed as endangered in Manitoba. Recent efforts in this province have been made to protect parts of their Boreal habitats including the Walter Cook Caves Ecological Reserve and the endangered alvar ecosystem in the Interlake region.

Additionally, researchers including Dr. Craig Willis of the University of Winnipeg are working to understand this pathogen and whether the bats that have survived WNF carry a resistance that is passed to their offspring. If that’s the case, these resistant individuals could be a life raft for these species’.

Dotted with caves and blanketed in trees that both provide shelter, the Boreal in Manitoba offers prime habitat for both endangered bat species’ that live here. Though securing suitable habitat is critical to the survival of any species, it is especially so for those facing such drastic threats.

Planning for land use in the boreal that protect critical habitats for these endangered species might offer the greatest chance for their survival.

If you are aware of bat colonies in your area, you can report them to Neighbourhood Batwatch. Data will be used to  identify population trends and suitable habitats to inform conservation driven research.

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