Parks Canada has launched an initiative aimed at measuring and conserving bat populations in Glacier National Park.

White Nose Syndrome is a devastating disease that is decimating bat populations while they sleep during the winter.

Research suggests that the disease is spreading westward in North America and scientists here have now taken preventative measures to protect bat populations.

A bat team has been assembled to gather data on how bats might use the Nakimu Cave System in Glacier National Park and to determine whether the bats have been exposed to WNS.

WNS spores can be spread through bat-to-bat transmission and also transported from cave to cave via gear carried by cavers.

Researchers say the spread of the fungus has the potential to fast track bat species, like the Northern and Little Brown Bat to the endangered species list.

“Bats play an important role in the ecosystem as night-time pollinators and in pest control,” said Sarah Boyle, Glacier National Park Ecologist. “In order to protect species like the Little Brown Bat, we need to know two things. First, is WNS in the caves; and second, do bats use the caves. While we have no reports of bats in the caves, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there,” she said, and “if they are, the devices we installed will record their calls and tell us what species of bat they are and when they use the caves. This will help us protect them.”

Over the last few days, the bat project team installed bat acoustic recorders, mats to collect bat droppings and mini data loggers in several entrances to the Nakimu Caves System.

The equipment will help researchers determine if and when the bats use the caves and also if WNS is present.

The recording devices will be left in the caves for 18 months and are similar to the devices used to record whales, dolphins and birds.

Parks Canada will use the results of the research to decide how to best manage the caves and protect the bats.

The caves’ are difficult to access and are a six kilometre maze of interconnecting passageways carved through limestone by water in the Cougar Valley.

The cave system is closed to summer access and is a sensitive grizzly bear habitat.

Public access to the caves is restricted to preserve the ecosystem and also to limit contact between visitors and bears.

A restricted activities permit is required to go into the area and strict equipment disinfection procedures of all equipment must be adhered to prevent the spread of WNS.

Known bat species in Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks include:

1.       M. lucifugus, Little Brown Myotis, (endangered)
2.       M. septentrionalis, Northern Myotis, (endangered)
3.       M. evotis, Long-eared Myotis,
4.       M. volans, Long-legged Myotis,
5.       M. californicus , Californian Myotis,
6.       L. cinereus, Hoary Bat,
7.       L. noctivagans, Silver-haired Bat,
8.       E. fuscus, Big Brown Bat, and
9.       C. townsendii, Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat.

For more information on the Nakimu Caves, Visit the Parks Canada website.