Behavior, body size impact bats’ fight against white-nose syndrome

little brown bat

BIG BAT, LITTLE BAT  New models that consider bat size in relation to white-nose syndrome indicate that smaller bats like the North American little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus (shown),  may be more susceptible to the disease and will struggle to survive future winters.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Flickr (CC BY 2.0

Small bats, beware.

Whether or not the deadly white-nose syndrome fungal disease hits some bats harder than others could depend on behavior and size, researchers report in the Jan. 29 Science Advances. The disease depletes bats’ winter fat reserves by waking them from hibernation.

David Hayman of Massey University in New Zealand and colleagues modeled how bat hibernation environment and bat energetics relate to white-nose syndrome, which has killed millions of bats in eastern North America.

The researchers found that big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) are better survivors than little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus)— possibly because big brown bats tend to have more fat stores, lower metabolic rates and drier hibernation sites. Lower fat reserves and humid roosting sites leave little brown bats vulnerable to the white-nose syndrome fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans), the scientists think.

Bats in Europe, where the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome likely originated, also have high survival rates. Over time, they developed behaviors and physical traits that made them less susceptible to the disease, the researchers suggest.

FUNGAL SPREAD The map above shows how the fungus behind white-nose syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that causes the disease spread across the U.S. and Canada between 2006 and 2015. Hayman et al/Science Advances 2016

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