White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emerging and devastating disease of hibernating bats in North America. WNS is caused by a cold-growing fungus (Geomyces destructans) that infects the skin of hibernating bats during winter and causes life-threatening alterations in physiology and behavior. WNS has spread rapidly across the eastern United States and Canada since it was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006. This new disease is causing mass mortality and detrimentally affecting most of the 6 species of bats that hibernate in the northeastern United States. Particularly hard-hit are the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), eastern small-footed bat (Myotis leibii), and federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). Several more species are also now known to be exposed to the fungus in the Midwest and Southeast. The sudden and widespread mortality associated with white-nose syndrome is unprecedented in any of the world’s bats and is a cause for international concern as the fungus and the disease spread farther north, south, and west. Loss of these long-lived insect-eating bats could have substantial adverse effects on agriculture and forestry through loss of natural pest-control services.
Tracking a Deadly Disease
Because WNS is spreading so rapidly, field surveillance data and diagnostic samples must be managed efficiently so that critical information can be communicated quickly among State and Federal land managers, as well as the public. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which plays a primary role in coordinating the Federal response to WNS, worked with the USGS Fort Collins Science Center’s Web Applications Team to develop the White-nose Syndrome Disease Tracking System. Version 1.0 of this system, released for Beta testing in May 2011, addresses two critical objectives:
enable state-level resource managers to effectively manage WNS field and laboratory data, and
provide customizable map and data reports of surveillance findings. The WNS Disease Tracking System subsequently was demonstrated to resource managers involved in the WNS response, and system users are assisting with in-depth testing. Once resource-management users are all trained (autumn 2011), they will begin populating the system with surveillance data, much of which will be immediately available to the public.
WNS version 1.0 was released into production in November, 2011 and state points-of-contact are currently being trainined. New users are providing ciritical feedback for WNS version 2.0, which is currently being planned with Fish and Wildlife Region 5 and the National White-nose Syndrome Data Management Team.
Key System Components
Disease Tracking: Customizable disease tracking maps and data exports for all U.S. states and counties
Disease Reporting: Tissue sample database management for authorized resource managers as well as a publicly accessible database of disease reporting contacts for all U.S. States and Federal resource management agencies
Diagnostic Labs: Directory of laboratories involved in white-nose syndrome diagnostic analyses
Summary and analysis of the U.S. government Bat Banding Program
This report summarizes the U.S. Government Bat Banding Program (BBP) from 1932 to 1972. More than 2 million bands were issued during the program, of which approximately 1.5 million bands were applied to 36 bat species by scientists in many locations in North America including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Throughout the BBP, banders noticed numerous and deleterious effects on bats, leading to a moratorium on bat banding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a resolution to cease banding by the American Society of Mammalogists in 1973. One of the main points of the memorandum written to justify the moratorium was to conduct a "detailed evaluation of the files of the bat-banding program." However, a critical and detailed evaluation of the BBP was never completed. In an effort to satisfy this need, I compiled a detailed history of the BBP by examining the files and conducting a literature review on bat banding activities during the program. I also provided a case study in managing data and applying current mark-recapture theory to estimate survival using the information from a series of bat bands issued to Clyde M. Senger during the BBP. The majority of bands applied by Senger were to Townsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii), a species of special concern for many states within its geographic range. I developed a database management system for the bat banding records and then analyzed and modeled survival of hibernating Townsend's big-eared bats at three main locations in Washington State using Cormack-Jolly-Seber (CJS) open models and the modeling capabilities of Program MARK. This analysis of a select dataset in the BBP files provided relatively precise estimates of survival for wintering Townsend's big-eared bats. However, this dataset is unique due to its well-maintained and complete state and because there were high recapture rates over the course of banding; it is doubtful that other unpublished datasets of the same quality exist buried in the BBP files for further analyses. Lastly, I make several recommendations based on the findings of this summary and analysis, the most important of which is that marking bats with standard metal or split-ring forearm bands should not be considered for mark-recapture studies unless the information sought and the potential for obtaining unbiased estimates from that information vastly outweighs the potential negative effects to the bats.
Bats are ecologically and economically important mammals. The life histories of bats (particularly their low reproductive rates and the need for some species to gather in large aggregations at limited numbers of roosting sites) make their populations vulnerable to declines. Many of the species of bats in the United States (U.S.) and territories are categorized as endangered or threatened, have been candidates for such categories, or are considered species of concern. The importance and vulnerability of bat populations makes monitoring trends in their populations a goal for their future management. However, scientifically rigorous monitoring of bat populations requires well-planned, statistically defensible efforts. This volume reports findings of an expert workshop held to examine the topic of monitoring populations of bats. The workshop participants included leading experts in sampling and analysis of wildlife populations, as well as experts in the biology and conservation of bats. Findings are reported in this volume under two sections. Part I of the report presents contributed papers that provide overviews of past and current efforts at monitoring trends in populations of bats in the U.S. and territories. These papers consider current techniques and problems, and summarize what is known about the status and trends in populations of selected groups of bats. The contributed papers in Part I also include a description of the monitoring program developed for bat populations in the United Kingdom, a critique of monitoring programs in wildlife in general with recommendations for survey and sampling strategies, and a compilation and analysis of existing data on trends in bats of the U.S. and territories. Efforts directed at monitoring bat populations are piecemeal and have shortcomings. In Part II of the report, the workshop participants provide critical analyses of these problems and develop recommendations for improving methods, defining objectives and priorities, gaining mandates, and enhancing information exchange to facilitate future efforts for monitoring trends in U.S. bat populations.
Monitoring trends in bat populations of the United States and territories: status of the science and recommendations for the future
Populations of bats (Order Chiroptera) are difficult to monitor. However, current recognition of the importance of bats to biodiversity, their ecological and economic value as ecosystem components, and their vulnerability to declines makes monitoring trends in their populations a much-needed cornerstone for their future management. We report finding and recommendations for a recent expert workshop on monitoring trends in bat populations in the United States and territories…
North American Bat Data Integration
By moving WNS disease data to the Bat Population Database researchers will be able to manage their WNS data more effectively.
The U.S. Bat Banding Program applied 1.5 million bands between 1932 and 1972. Once digitized, these critical data will be available to the public for the first time.
Bats are essential to the health of our natural world. They help control pests and are vital pollinators and seed-dispersers for countless plants. Bat populations are in trouble, however. Since 2006, more than 5 million bats have died due to a fungal disease called White-nose Syndrome (WNS). At the same time, several migratory tree-dwelling species are being killed in unprecedented numbers by wind turbines. In light of these emerging threats, the scientific community has expressed great interest in improving access to historical information and WNS data to better inform bat conservation efforts. To address this need, this project is integrating two important datasets into the USGS Bat Population Database, an enterprise data management system for bat researchers.
Integrate WNS diagnostic data into the BPD
WNS is an emerging disease of hibernating insectivorous bats in North America and causes extensive mortality of bats in eastern North America. A National Plan for assisting States, Federal agencies, and tribes in managing WNS was developed in 2011 and this plan identifies 7 working groups, including the Data and Technical Information Management Working Group. The main goal of this plan is to “provide a database system that can be used by State, Federal, and tribal agencies, and serve as a central repository for nationwide analyses and specific projects.” To address this need we are migrating to the BPD WNS diagnostic laboratory data, which includes the historical data that is the foundation of the current understanding of the distribution and spread of WNS, as well as the fungus that causes the disease, Pseudogynmnoascus destructans. WNS diagnostic data is being made available to the BPD through a partnership between the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) diagnostic laboratory and the USGS Fort Collins Science Center (FORT). Using the Bat Population Database as the WNS data management platform will provide state-level WNS Point-of-Contacts with a secure, web-based application to manage and share the results of white-nose syndrome efforts in their state.
Integrate the USGS Bat Banding Program card files into the BPD
The U.S. Government administered, coordinated, and maintained a national Bat Banding Program from 1932 to 1972. The files and documentation for this program are currently maintained by the USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. More than 2 million bat bands were issued during the program. Approximately 1.5 million bands were applied to 36 species of bats by scientists, their students, and colleagues in many locations in North America including the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. The banding information files currently exist in 90 drawers on 3”x5” index cards. There are also correspondence files (memoranda), gray literature, and anecdotal information on handwritten pieces of paper. In collaboration with Region 3 US Fish and Wildlife Service, FORT is developing a national clearinghouse for banded bats in order to optimize information obtained from marked animals. By including the historical Bat Banding Program files in this clearinghouse, the utility of the data repository will be vastly improved, allowing for the use of a valuable and currently inaccessible resource.
Development of a White-nose Syndrome (WNS) Disease Tracking System
A bat with white nose syndrome hangs in a cave
During the winter of 2006-2007, an affliction of unknown origin dubbed “White-Nose Syndrome” (WNS) began devastating colonies of hibernating bats around Albany, New York. Since then, WNS has rapidly spread, infecting bats in 16 states and 4 provinces of Canada. This has raised alarms in the resource management community, where efforts are now underway to coordinate and manage WNS response on a continental scale. One need identified by resource management agencies is the ability to track and share information regarding bat specimens (for example, carcasses and tissues) submitted for WNS verification, in order to better understand WNS's movement and distribution across the landscape. FORT scientists are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a single, secure, Web-based system to support implementation of common methodologies and protocols across agencies and organizations. This geospatially oriented data management system will track specimens from the point of collection through analysis by centralizing all partner data in a single repository and enforcing the approved data integrity standards, and by allowing users to enter, verify, and report on their data remotely using a secure internet connection. In this way, the WNS disease tracking system will provide wildlife managers and researchers with near real-time access to WNS data, which they can use to evaluate seasonality of disease effects, identify WNS distribution patterns through geospatial analyses, and forecast potential risk areas.
Bat Population Data Project
A bat cluster in a cave
The USGS is monitoring trends in bat populations of the United States and territories
In 1994, USGS scientists recognized that despite increasing concern for many species of bats known or believed to be declining, the data necessary to determine population status and trends were fragmented among agencies and organizations.Thus began theUSGS Bat Population Data Project, which has become a multi-phase, comprehensive effort to compile existing population information for bats in the United States and Territories. The initial phase of this project was developed to
synthesize the existing bat population data and publications for the United States and Territories into a single web accessible database,
test the utility of this data for estimating trends in bat populations, and
evaluate the applicability of this data to design future monitoring programs.
The Bat Population Database (BPD v.1), the project’s initial product, compiles various components of bat population data from 1855-2001, particularly counts of bats at colony locations, location attributes, and a complete bibliography of bat publications (published literature, theses and agency reports, and State agency files) for the U.S. and Territories.
Next, a scientific workshop was convened to evaluate the current status of bat populations, the methods used to estimate their trends, and developing scientific goals for future monitoring programs. Participants included experts in bat biology, wildlife population monitoring, and wildlife population estimation. In 2003, the USGS Fort Collins Science Center published the results of the workshop in a USGS Information and Technology Report titled “Monitoring trends in bat populations of the United States and territories: Problems and prospects” (O’Shea and Bogan, 2003). This report includes a summary and analysis of the BPD v.1 data and its utility in guiding the design of future monitoring programs.
In the years since completion of BPD v.1 and workshop report, North American bat populations have continued to decline. Of particular concern have been the precipitous declines of hibernating bats affected by White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a novel fungal pathogen, as well as the significant threat to migrating bats from increasing wind energy development. These combined threats have generated renewed interest for data suitable for bat population estimation and trend analysis.
Currently, USGS scientists are responding to this need by upgrading, updating and extending the capabilities of BPD v.1 for better data management, accessibility and utility by USGS and data partners. The objectives of this phase are to:
Update existing bat population data and publications since 2001.
Provide web-based BPD access to researchers and organizations.
Provide advanced search capabilities including enhanced form-based searches.
Provide BPD data partners with report and export services.
Define standards for data collection and management to facilitate a standards-based approach for researchers.
Facilitate collaboration and data sharing between BPD data partners.
Development of the next version of the database, BPD v.2, began in April, 2012 with the first of two planned Beta releases occurring in August, 2012. The initial Beta release provides selected users the ability to search for bibliographic references to bat populations by location, date, and species. In addition, search reports can display species distribution maps and summary statistics of current BPD data holdings. The second Beta release, expected in October 2012, will provide additional metadata and data management capabilities. BPD v.2 will become fully operational and replace the existing BPD v. 1 in December 2012.