Colorado State University goes to bat for species threatened by White Nose Syndrome

From vampire movies to rabies, bats have gotten a bad rap over the years. But they play a critical role in the ecosystem — and Colorado State University is preparing for the arrival of a fungus that is threatening them.

White Nose Syndrome has decimated more than 5 million “little brown bats” in the eastern United States since it was identified in New York in 2006, and it has now progressed as far west as Missouri. Losing bats doesn’t just mean having to swat more annoying mosquitos, it represents a threat to agricultural industries, since bats are crucial for controlling pests that target crops.

In preparation for the anticipated arrival of the fungus, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program at Colorado State University, in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is conducting surveys of the state’s little brown bats so that scientists can detect any declines in that population caused by White Nose Syndrome.

Jeremy Siemers, a zoologist with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, was part of a team that trapped and tagged more than 600 bats this summer at two locations near Steamboat Springs where females were raising their young. By inserting tags into the bats, he said, the researchers can track their presence at the roosts and hopefully be notified of the fungus’s arrival if a notable decline in the population occurs.

A video about the project is available at http://col.st/geDqh.

Siemers said the team is asking property owners around Colorado to contact him if they have a sizable bat population in places like attics or barns and are willing to have the researchers arrange a visit to conduct similar tagging operations. He can be reached at jsiemers@colostate.edu.

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