As Deadly White-Nose Syndrome Ravages Bat Population, Bats Change Social Strategy to Survive
Like germophobes who avoid the mall during flu season, North America’s most common bat species is changing its social behavior...
Like germophobes who avoid the mall during flu season, North America’s most common bat species is changing its social behavior as a result of disease, new research says. Little brown bats, which have been decimated by a fungus known as white-nose, are turning into loners.
Little browns are typically very gregarious, nesting in close clusters and hibernating in tightly packed spaces. But close quarters can breed illness. White-nose fungus, which causes a debilitating and usually deadly illness called white-nose syndrome, can spread from bat to bat via their faces and wings.
Millions of bats have perished from white-nose, with likely implications for forest ecology and agriculture, as bats eat many pest insects. But it seems like loner bats will be the survivors, according to Kate Langwig, a graduate student at the University of California-Santa Cruz and senior author of a new bat paper. Little brown bats increasingly are hibernating alone, rather than in packed groups, the new paper says — up to 75 percent are “roosting singly,” Langwig said. Other species, including the endangered Indiana bat, may not fare as well, unless they also change their habits.
The paper appears in Ecology Letters.