OTTAWA, Feb. 27, 2012 /CNW/ - On 3 February 2012, an emergency
assessment subcommittee of COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of
Endangered Wildlife in Canada) assessed the status of Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus), Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) in Canada. All three species were assessed as Endangered. The
subcommittee concluded that the unprecedented mortality in Canada's
native bat species from Geomyces destructans, the pathogen responsible for White-nose Syndrome, poses a serious and
imminent threat to the survival of each of these species. Populations
of all three species have recently declined precipitously due to the
rapid spread of White Nose Syndrome. A recommendation has been made to
the Minister of the Environment that an Emergency Order be issued
placing these wildlife species on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act.
The emergency assessment was based on the best available knowledge for
the three bat species and the disease agent in Canada and in the United
States. Although information on bats and the fungal disease is somewhat
limited, the evidence of population collapse and rapid spread of the
disease is clear. This is only the fourth emergency assessment carried
out by COSEWIC in about ten years.
White Nose Syndrome
White Nose Syndrome was first identified in a cave in New York State, USA in February 2006.
It was discovered in Canada in the winter of 2009/2010 and is now
confirmed in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and is
spreading rapidly at rates of between 200 and 400km/year. It is
believed that the fungus is not native to North America, and further
human transport may facilitate more rapid spread to western Canada.
Little is known about this syndrome that gets its name from the
characteristic white fuzzy fungal growths that can been seen around the
nose and on the wings of infected bats. Laboratory studies in 2011
confirm that the syndrome is caused by a fungus called Geomyces destructans. White-nose Syndrome interrupts the hibernation of bats and they quickly
use up the fat reserves that get them through the winter. Infected bats
often emerge early from hibernation and are seen flying around in
midwinter. These bats usually dehydrate or starve to death. The disease
has now been linked to deaths of more than 5.7 million North American
Three Bat Species Endangered and, Other Bat Species Likely Impacted
In Canada, the ranges of the Tri-colored Bat and G. destructans almost completely overlap. This bat is relatively rare, but direct
counts of this species at a hibernaculum in Quebec show declines of 94%
over two years. The disease risk to Tri-colored Bat is considered
exceptionally high because it hibernates at temperatures considered
optimal for the pathogen and for relatively long periods of time.
Although the range of Little Brown Myotis has so far only been partially
impacted by G. destructans, the disease is spreading at rates between 200 and 400km/year and could
encompass most of the species' range within two to three generations.
Recent population counts of Little Brown Myotis at hibernacula in
Canada show declines of 94-99% within two years of exposure.
For Northern Myotis, like Little Brown Myotis, the distribution of G. destructans does not include the full range of the species but the evidence
indicates rapid spread and very high mortality. Recent counts at
hibernacula in Canada show declines of over 90% within two years.
Only three bat species were assessed by COSEWIC in February, however, to
date White Nose Syndrome has been identified in nine species of bats in
North America and there is conservation concern for these and other
species where the disease has not yet been found.
Not Just a Bat Problem, Bats Provide Us with Very Important Ecological
Although there are no known links between the syndrome and human health,
White Nose Syndrome is more than just a bat problem. Bats provide
tremendous value to the economy as natural pest control for farms and
forests every year, and may play an important role in helping to
control insects that spread disease to people. US researchers have
estimated that the bat die-off will cost North American agriculture
$3.7 billion dollars annually.
What is Being Done
Currently there is no treatment for, or means of preventing transmission
of White Nose Syndrome. Canadian and United States researchers and
conservation biologists are working together to improve data and
address important research questions on bats and the disease. An
inter-agency team has prepared a draft document; "A National Plan to Manage White Nose Syndrome in Bats in Canada" to guide and coordinate actions. Efforts are underway to reduce or
remove the possibility of transfer of the fungus by humans through
reducing visits to caves and through biosecurity protocols for
researchers. We encourage the public to contact their local wildlife
agencies and report any caves, mines or other sites used by bats, and
any unusual bat behavior, such as bats flying outdoors in deep winter,
or sightings of dead bats in winter.
(Note: The has been some recent changes in the scientific and common
names of bats: Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus) was previously, Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus); Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus) was previously, Eastern Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus) and Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) was previously, Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis).
COSEWIC assesses the status of wild species, subspecies, varieties, or
other important units of biological diversity, considered to be at risk
in Canada. To do so, COSEWIC uses scientific, Aboriginal traditional
and community knowledge provided by experts from governments, academia
and other organizations. Summaries of assessments are currently
available to the public on the COSEWIC website (www.cosewic.gc.ca) and are submitted to the Federal Minister of the Environment for
listing consideration under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Full status reports and status appraisal summaries are also
made publicly available on the Species at Risk Public Registry (www.sararegistry.gc.ca).
There are now 643 wildlife species in various COSEWIC risk categories,
including 284 Endangered, 158 Threatened, 177 Special Concern, and 24
Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition
to these wildlife species that are in COSEWIC risk categories, there
are 14 wildlife species that are Extinct.
COSEWIC comprises members from each provincial and territorial
government wildlife agency, four federal entities (Canadian Wildlife
Service, Parks Canada Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the
Canadian Museum of Nature), three Non-government Science Members, and
the Co-chairs of the Species Specialist and the Aboriginal Traditional
Definition of COSEWIC Terms and Status Categories:
Wildlife Species: A species, subspecies, variety, or geographically or genetically
distinct population of animal, plant or other organism, other than a
bacterium or virus, that is wild by nature and is either native to
Canada or has extended its range into Canada without human intervention
and has been present in Canada for at least 50 years.
Endangered (E)*: A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
*denotes a COSEWIC risk category
SOURCE Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
For further information:
Contact for questions on COSEWIC:
Dr. Marty L. Leonard
Department of Biology
Halifax NS B3H 4J1
For general inquiries:
Canadian Wildlife Service
351 St. Joseph Blvd, 16th floor
Gatineau QC K1A 0H3
Telephone: (819) 953-3215
Fax: (819) 994-3684
Contact for questions on bats and White Nose Syndrome:
Dr. Graham Forbes
Faculty of Forestry & Envir. Management
University of New Brunswick
Telephone: (506) 453-4929
Fax: (506) 453-3538
Contact for questions on bats and White Nose Syndrome in French:
Biologiste en conservation
Direction de l'expertise sur la faune et ses habitats
Telephone: (418) 627-8694, poste 7448
Fax: (418) 646-6863
Further details on all wildlife species assessed, and the reasons for designations, can be found on the COSEWIC website at: www.cosewic.gc.ca