Free-Ranging Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus) Heal from Wing Damage Associated with White-Nose Syndrome
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White-nose syndrome (WNS) is having an unprecedented impact on hibernating bat populations in the eastern United States. While most studies have focused on widespread mortality observed at winter hibernacula, few have examined the consequences of wing damage that has been observed among those bats that survive hibernation. Given that WNS-related wing damage may lead to life-threatening changes in wing function, we tested the hypothesis that reduced abundance of free-ranging little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) with severe wing damage as the summer progresses is due to healing of wing tissue. Photographs of captured and recaptured adult females were examined for wing damage and healing rates were calculated for each category of wing damage index (WDI = 0–3). We found that free-ranging bats with severe wing damage were able to heal to a lower WDI score within 2 weeks. Bats with the most severe wing damage had faster healing rates than did individuals with less damage. We also found a significant relationship between body condition and WDI for adult females captured in the early weeks of the active season. Our results support the hypothesis that some bats can heal from severe wing damage during the active season, and thus may not experience increased mortality associated with reduced functions of wings. We urge researchers and wildlife managers to use caution when interpreting data on WDI to assess the impact of WNS on bat populations, especially during the later months of the active season.