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Helping Canada’s Endangered Bats

Researcher Cori Lausen conducted the first formal inventory of bats in B.C.`s Flathead Valley, concluding they could play an important role in understanding White Nose Syndrome.

They lurk in dark corners, resting by day and flying about by night. Often associated with vampires, people fear that these fluttering winged rats, flying foxes or creepy creatures will tangled themselves in one’s hair or worse yet feast on their blood.

Of course none of this is true – at least not the blood sucking, hair tangling part.

“What is scary,” according to bat biologist Dr. Cori Lausen, “are the ramifications of not having them in our forests!”

Photo: Renee Krysko

Millions of bats are dying from wind turbines and a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome. Declining bat populations will mean loss of natural pest control in our forests. (Did you know bats can catch 1200 insects per hour!)

“British Columbia stands to lose the most,” says Lausen. “Sixteen of Canada’s eighteen bat species are in B.C. but are poorly understood. In places such as the Flathead we could have upwards of 11 bat species. It has become a race to figure out who’s where, so that we can monitor future impacts of climate change, wind turbines and White Nose Syndrome on our bats and the ecosystems they help sustain.”

This summer, over a four-day period in June, Lausen conducted the first formal inventory of bats in the Flathead 2013. Her study concludes that B.C.`s Flathead River Valley could play an important role in understanding one of most damaging predators – the White Nose Syndrome – a mysterious disease that is responsible for the recent deaths of almost seven million North American bats.

Photo: Renee Krysko

The study points out that “every single mitigation and prevention strategy that has come out of research into this disease requires that the roosts used by hibernating bats be known.” Fortunately, we know exactly where those hibernating locations are in the Flathead.

Hibernacula, or large bat hibernation shelters, are commonly found in karst landscapes. The Flathead, unlike anywhere else in B.C., is surrounded by karst.

“Extensive karst in the Flathead area suggests that we may find large hibernacula,” says Lausen. “Which in turn could lead to a greater understanding of bats across the west, and hope for helping bats survive the White Nose disease.”

Lausen’s study was part of a larger research event, organized by B.C. and Alberta conservation groups (including Y2Y) and known as the Flathead Bioblitz, in which 25 biologists and citizen naturalists documented the diversity of species in B.C.’s Flathead River Valley.

The bat team, made up of Kent Russell, Cory Olson, Braydi Rice and Cori Lausen detected ten species of bats including two that are highly-endangered: little brown myotis and northern myotis. A third significant bat species, known as the eastern red bat, was also acoustically detected. This at-risk species was only recently discovered in B.C. and never so far south in the province.

It is exciting to realize that the Flathead could lead to a greater understanding of how to help these endangered bats survive. More importantly, it underscores the biological importance of B.C.’s Flathead and the urgent need to protect it permanently.

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