Thursday, May 23, 2013
This past winter, white-nose syndrome was confirmed in wild bat populations in southern Illinois. The fatal disease, first discovered in New York State in 2006, is caused by a fungus that infects hibernating bats. It has rapidly spread across the United States and Canada, expanding its range every year and resulting in the loss of more than 6 million bats so far.
As a researcher in the zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI), I participated in a white-nose syndrome survey at an abandoned mine in northern Illinois at the end of March. I met with scientists from the University of California Santa Cruz and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
After gearing up in Tyvek suits (to prevent disease transmission between caves), latex gloves and helmets, we crawled in the entrance. The walls were speckled with numbers and letters, codes indicating the different branches and networks of the cave. We turned on our headlamps and spoke only in hushed whispers to minimize our impact on the animals. Soon we could see big brown bats hanging delicately from the ceiling, deep in their cool winter slumber.
As we progressed through the tunnels, climbing over rocks and around pools of water, the bats became more and more numerous. Dozens of little brown bats were cuddled together, many with visible white on their muzzles—the telltale sign of the aptly named white-nose syndrome infection. Northern long-eared bats were scattered throughout the mine, some also showing signs of the fungus on their faces and bodies. Occasionally, we’d spot the small tricolored bats, their bright orange bodies contrasting against the dull gray walls of the mine.
While some researchers were counting and identifying species, others were taking swabs from the walls and off the bats themselves, trying to get more information about this deadly disease. Seeing these animals in their winter habitat was like peering into a secret land: while bats are commonly seen flying overhead at dusk in summertime, their winter world is completely unknown to most of us. Tragically, observing bats during the winter months is likely going to become a rare event as white-nose syndrome continues to expand across the continent.
It’s too early to predict exactly how the arrival of this disease is going to affect bats or how their ecosystems may be affected by the loss of a critical species. Many of the bat species most affected by white-nose syndrome, such as big brown bats and northern long-eared bats, play a critical role in controlling pests—a major benefit to the agricultural industry.
Close observation of populations is essential to understanding these impacts. The UWI and I will continue to passively monitor bat populations by recording their echolocation calls in the summer to better understand how white-nose syndrome is affecting these important, local species.
Julia Kilgour is a project coordinator in Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute.
Friday, April 12, 2013
What’s new in the Goualougo Triangle? DNAInfo.com shares the latest from the zoo research site, a pristine landscape home to thousands of gorillas and chimpanzees. The wild update includes a baby on the way for field scientists David Morgan and Crickette Sanz.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
With President and CEO Kevin Bell in Charleston for the AZA mid-year conference, he hands over his blog to Fisher Center Director Steve Ross, who offers an update on the zoo's latest work to understand--and protect--great apes.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Samples sorted, equipment stowed away, bags packed and I’m suddenly finding myself back in Chicago after almost five months in Tanzania. Watching the snow falling as I eat Chicago deep dish pizza, I can hardly believe that just a few weeks ago I was in the rural villages west of Serengeti National Park.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
A camera crew spent three weeks in the Republic of Congo's remote Goualougo Triangle to film "honey pounding," a rare chimpanzee behavior studied by Lincoln Park Zoo scientists. The results will air on the Discovery Channel tonight at 9 p.m., but you can get a preview with this video!
Increasing Conservation and Understanding
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