Could European bats help solve US bat mystery? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Could European bats help solve US bat mystery?

Rutland, Vermont - January 10, 2012

Scientists have been studying the mass mortality of 15 different bat colonies in Vermont since 2007.

"When we're looking at a few of the species that we've had to list as endangered in Vermont recently, they've lost around 90 to 95 percent of their population," wildlife technician Alyssa Bennett said.

But European bats, it turns out, are not only surviving-- they're even thriving.

"How the fungus works, why it's so deadly to the bats and we have definitely learned a lot there, but is it something that's treatable? So far, no one has come up with a way to treat the fungus without stressing the bats out too much," Bennett said.

If scientists at the University of Winnipeg do conclude the fungus that causes white nose syndrome is invasive, it would mean scientists could shift focus from treating the bats to really comparing them with those in Europe.

"One of the possible theories as well is that the bats over there might be survivors," Bennett said.

Bennett says it's possible there was a mass die-off of bats in Europe many years ago before scientists were studying in caves, and that the bats now thriving in Europe may have evolved from those that didn't survive.

"I think we're holding out hope that some of our bats over here can fight the fungus off and make it through the winter and reproduce and we're hoping there could be some possible resistance there," Bennett said.

Another major theory is that the environment in the caves in Europe is just different enough to contain the fungus from becoming dangerous.

"Is there are difference behaviorally? Some of the bats are staying in cooler or moister areas of the cave," Bennett said.

Bennett also says that if classified as invasive more funding could be freed up to prevent the spread of the fungus by closing caves from the public and continuing to fund research.

Until that classification is determined or disproven-- which should be in a few months-- Bennett says one thing they are considering is transporting the bats to old military bunkers in the winter months where the environment is more sterile and then bring them back to the wild for the spring and summer.

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