The simulation showed that the patterns and proportion about 82 percent of bat mortality observed in affected populations in the wild are consistent with a large increase in the amount of time spent out of hibernation during the winter months. Their results, they say, provide evidence that the fungus is likely affecting bat hibernation patterns.
The researchers then took the simulation one step further. They reasoned that one way to help affected bats save their energy reserves and survive the winter is to provide them with a heat source, so they don't have to create as much body heat when they rouse. Bats often fly to the warmest parts of their cave during bouts of arousal.
"They already do this in the wild," Boyles says. "What we're suggesting is accentuating that behavior."
When the authors altered the simulation to include localized heat sources the bats could gather in during arousals, the model showed that mortality levels dropped to as little as 8 percent.
These results could be used in the short-term to prevent bat populations from crashing below sustainable levels, the authors say. They are currently developing a system, using wooden boxes and heating coils, to create warm pockets in bat caves. The plan holds no guarantees: the overall temperature in the cave needs to stay cold enough so that bats can still lower their body temperatures during hibernation. But the researchers are optimistic.
"By insulating the bat boxes and carefully selecting where we will place them, we think we can solve this issue," says Willis.
Further, saving afflicted animals may not be sustainable in the long term, say the authors. If WNS is transmitted in spring and summer by surviving b
|Contact: Christine Buckley|
Ecological Society of America