If you're battling more insects this summer than usual, it might be due to bats – declining populations of these voracious insect-eaters. In the Northeast, white-nose syndrome has killed more than one million bats in recent years.
The disease caused by a cold-weather fungus has spread to 18 states from Maine to Tennessee plus two Canadian provinces since first found in New York during 2006. Dying populations were first discovered in Maine this spring.
A recent Boston University analysis published in Science magazine's Policy Forum estimate that pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats save the U.S. agriculture at least $3 billion a year.
At this point, the U.S. Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is building a management plan to address the threat. But documentation of losses and locations is one of the first steps.
Part of the national plan being developed includes decontamination protocols to reduce fungus transmission, surveillance strategies, and diagnostic procedures. That's why Pennsylvania Game Commission is enlisting the help of more volunteers to scout out bat populations.
Join Appalachian Bat Counting Team
"WNS primarily kills during the winter, but the true impact of WNS on bat populations cannot be determined using estimates from winter hibernacula alone," says Calvin Butchkoski, Game Commission wildlife biologist. "Pennsylvanians can help us more fully gauge the impact of WNS on the landscape by hosting a bat count this summer. We're especially urging people who have ever conducted a bat count for the Game Commission in the past to redo a count this year."
To obtain applications and information on how to participate, click on www.pgc.state.pa.us, then on "Wildlife" in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, scroll down and choose "Pennsylvania Bats" in the Mammal section, and finally "Appalachian Bat Count" in the Reference listing.
Forms on the website guide interested participants through the steps of timing, conducting a survey and submitting their findings to the Game Commission. Scout groups, 4-H clubs, local environmental organizations, and individual homeowners can all participate in this important effort.
"Pennsylvania's two most common bat species, the little brown bat and the big brown bat, use buildings as their summer roosts," Butchkoski says. "Abandoned houses, barns, church steeples – and even currently-occupied structures – can provide a summer home to female bats and their young.
"Monitoring these 'maternity colonies' can give biologists a good idea of how bat populations in an area are doing from year to year. It's more important than ever."
Learn more about WNS at http://www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome.