Conservation implications of ameliorating survival of little brown bats with white‐nose syndrome


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Ecological Applications

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Management of wildlife populations impacted by novel threats is often challenged by a lack of data on temporal changes in demographic response. Populations may suffer rapid declines from the introduction of new stressors, but how demography changes over time is critical to determining long-term outcomes for populations. White-nose syndrome (WNS), an infectious disease of hibernating bats, has caused massive and rapid population declines in several hibernating species of bats in North America since the disease was first observed on the continent in 2006. Estimating annual survival rates and demographic trends among remnant colonies of hibernating bats that experienced mass mortality from WNS is needed to determine long-term population viability of species impacted by this disease. Using mark–recapture data on infected little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), we estimated the first apparent annual survival rates for four years following WNS detection at a site. We found strong support for an increasing trend in annual survival, which improved from 0.68 (95% CI = 0.44–0.85) to 0.75 (95% CI = 0.51–0.89) for males and 0.65 (95% CI = 0.44–0.81) to 0.70 (95% CI = 0.50–0.84) for females. These results suggest that stabilization at remnant colonies after mass mortality from WNS may be due to improved survival and not from immigration from other areas. Despite ameliorating survival, our stochastic matrix projection model predicts continued declines for little brown bat populations (λ = 0.95), raising concern for the regional persistence of this species. We conducted a vital rate sensitivity analysis and determined that adult and juvenile survival, as opposed to fecundity, are the demographic parameters most important to target to maximize recovery potential of little brown bat populations in areas impacted by WNS.

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