Could localized warm areas inside cold caves reduce mortality of hibernating bats affected by white-nose syndrome?

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Abstract

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a mysterious condition affecting populations of hibernating bats in the northeastern US. Little is known about its physiological effects on bats and no intervention has so far been proposed to slow associated mortality. We use an individual-based population model to examine how disruption of normal hibernation or pre-hibernation physiology could lead to the pattern of mortality that has been observed. We present evidence that artificial warming of localized areas within hibernacula could increase survival of WNS-affected bats during winter by lessening the energetic costs of periodic arousals. The model suggests that localized thermal refugia of 28°C could improve survival by up to 75%, depending on how WNS acts to disrupt energy balance. This approach has yet to be tested, but it could serve as a stopgap measure to slow population declines until a solution is found, or to preserve remnant bat populations if WNS becomes ubiquitous throughout the ranges of affected species.

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