As Deadly White-Nose Syndrome Ravages Bat Population, Bats Change Social Strategy to Survive

Little Brown Bat

This little brown bat was photographed in Vermont's Greeley Mine March 26, 2009. White-nose fungus is evident on its face and wings.Marvin Moriarty/USFWS

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.

[via PhysOrg]