Declining bat populations

Life is about to get a lot buggier for most of us in Ontario.

Bat populations are in steep decline due to a fast-spreading and incredibly deadly disease called white-nose syndrome which made its way to North America from Europe as so many invasives do.

Over the years millions of North American bats have died after contracting the fungal disease which disturbs the mammals’ winter rest using up important energy resources.

When the disease enters a colony 99 per cent of the bats die. It’s the largest mammalian decline on record University of Winnipeg researcher Kaleigh Norquay told CBC back in 2015.

The disease hasn’t let up since.

In fact in October the province’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe chastised the government for allowing bat populations to drop so significantly along with several other species including moose and several of Ontario’s amphibians.

Half of the bat species found in the province are now endangered. Local biologist Paul Heaven said it has to do with hibernation. White-nose syndrome grows well in cold damp caves where it can be spread amongst bats that stay there over winter.

As with any species if it is removed from the ecosystem you can expect a cascading effect throughout the rest of the environment. Scientists point to a rise in insect populations which are normally kept in check by bats as one of the side effects.

“They eat our moths gypsy moths for example … and nobody complains when they eat mosquitoes” said Heaven in an interview with the Echo. “They’re huge consumers of night flying insects.”

Many of those insects feast on crops and forest plants – and we all know what mosquitoes feast on. In her interview with CBC Norquay said the little brown bat will eat half its body weight in insects every night.

Luckily for us in the Highlands there is a group doing work on this issue. The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust with funding from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is doing a survey of bat populations and they need our help.

If you see a bat on your property the land trust is asking you to contact Paul Heaven (see information on page 5).

Using an ultrasonic recording device he is able to monitor bat sounds and identify which kinds of bats are still present locally and where.

This basic information will be helpful in monitoring the health of bat populations going forward.

It’s an important first step in addressing yet another species decline in our province.

With luck the information gathered will contribute to saving our bats before it’s too late.