When temperatures get colder and the days get shorter, many mammals settle into a period of hibernation. But what effect will climate change — and the associated changes in weather patterns — have on this annual behavior? [Read more…]
Scientists are still struggling to determine the cause behind white-nose syndrome, a disease which has a mortality rate of 75 – 100 percent among affected populations. This mysterious disease has killed almost 500,000 bats in the Northeast since its discovery in 2006. Last month scientists finally identified the fungus that gives the disease its name. Scientists think that the fungus causes a disruption to the bats’ hibernation, forcing the bats to use more energy than they have reserved for their winter hibernation.
Justin Boyles, a graduate student at Indiana State University, and Craig Willis, a professor at the University of Winnipeg, created a mathematical computer simulation to test this hypothesis. The variables they inputted into their simulation included patterns of arousal and the body mass and body fat percentage of the little brown bat, one of the affected bat species. The scientists’ simulation indicated that the patterns and proportion of mortality in affected bat populations was similar to the researchers’ theory of hibernation disruption.
Boyles and Willis have proposed a short-term solution to protect affected bat populations from catastrophe. When bats are forced to arouse themselves from a state of hibernation, they must use a lot of energy to heat up their bodies. The scientists suggest that providing hibernating bats with a heat source in their caves could prevent bats from needing to expend large amounts of energy to re-heat their bodies. The researchers are currently developing a system to create warm pockets within caves.
The scientists are quick to point out that installing a heat source for bats is only a short-term solution to the problem. This solution does not solve the problem of preventing the spread of white-nose syndrome or curing the disease itself. More research is necessary to resolve these serious issues.