Bat Populations and Cave Microclimate Prior to and at the Outbreak of White-Nose Syndrome in New Brunswick


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The Canadian Field-Naturalist

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Information on bat populations and hibernacula is important for understanding the impacts of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fatal fungal disease of bats. Estimates of bat populations prior to the outbreak of white-nose syndrome are presented for 2009–2011 for the most significant bat hibernacula known in New Brunswick. At one of these sites we recorded a major mortality event from white-nose syndrome, the first in the Maritime provinces, late in the winter of 2011. Winter surveys of hibernating bats suggest that a minimum of 7000 bats overwintered in these hibernacula prior to the outbreak of white-nose syndrome in New Brunswick. The majority of hibernating bats in New Brunswick caves are Myotis lucifugus (Little Brown Myotis) and M. septentrionalis (Northern Myotis), with low numbers of Perimyotis subflavus (Tricolored Bat). The New Brunswick hibernacula that support the greatest numbers of overwintering bats have little temperature variation, winter dark zone temperatures averaging 4–5°C, and minimum dark zone temperatures dropping to no lower than 3.1°C. New Brunswick caves with these temperature patterns characteristically have ≥140 m of main passage and lack both running water and multiple entrances. Few cave sites in the province meet these criteria, and the known winter bat population appears to be smaller than the summer population. Many bats present during the summer in New Brunswick either hibernate in unknown locations in the province or migrate out of the province to locate suitable hibernacula. Such movements may have hastened the arrival of white-nose syndrome in New Brunswick.

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