Bats are become increasingly threatened since 2006 by a deadly disease called white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that affects only these flying mammals. The disease has already caused a steep reduction in the population of Bats in the Eastern United States. The culprit behind this goes by the name Pseudogymnoascus destructans, who loves to thrive in subterranean habitats, and this is the place where Bats tend to hibernate during winter months. These warm places help these fungi grow on the bodies of the Bats, which in turn reduces their survival. In spite of being deadly, these bats still keep coming to these places during the winter season to hibernate. This stands as a perfect example of infectious disease, creating an ecological trap for wildlife.
Researchers wanted to know how these temperatures play a vital role in altering the Bat population, and therefore they used the mark-recapture method, which involves banding bats and trying to find them later. For this, the team visited the Hibernacula (places where Bats hibernate) twice a year, one at the start of the hibernation and another one just before the end of the hibernation period. During this visit, they also take swabs to check the fungal load of these places and use a laser thermometer to measure the roosting temperature of the rocks in which these bats hibernate. This helps us to understand how these roosting sites are impacting the population of these flying creatures. In addition to this, this also allows researchers to know which places to prioritize for conservation to saving declining species. Moreover, researchers add that since these warm places are acting as ecological traps, they speculate that we might need artificial interventions in the future to save species from going extinct.
These interventions can range anywhere between closing the entire warm Hibernacula and altering the temperature of these caves by pumping air. Scientists say these interventions are not that easy because many species of bats dwell inside these caves, and so making severe interventions may lead to a greater impact on the entire niche. Scientists also say humidity might also have a role in spreading this disease but measuring them at Underground Hibernacula may be difficult as results may vary greatly. To solve this, scientists have installed humidity loggers, which will help them to collect better humidity data and understand the disease better. Further insights on the disease will help us save many dwindling species from the brink of extinction.
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