White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has been negatively impacting North American bats and spreading rapidly since its first detection in New York State in 2006. WNS affects many species of bats, especially those that hibernate in caves. Studies have found that species of the genera Perimyotis and Myotis are most highly affected by WNS. Eptesicus may be moderately susceptible, whereas Lasiurus and other “tree bat” genera seem to be unsusceptible. In light of the high risk of this disease to bats and possible shifts in niche occupation due to the unequal rates of infection among various species, monitoring how bat communities are being affected constitutes an important research and conservation goal. However, in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, where WNS was first detected in 2015, the effects of WNS on bat populations have been understudied. This study explores how populations of bats may have been affected by WNS in several Piedmont counties of North Carolina by comparing the patterns of summer bat acoustic activity across the years 2015 through 2019. Recordings of bat echolocation calls were analyzed using SonoBat software to identify them to the species level. Preliminary results from three of the study sites suggest that the most prevalent species at those sites were Eptesicus fuscus (big brown bat), Lasiurus borealis (eastern red bat) and Perimyotis subflavus (tricolored bat). Further analyses will examine whether there have been negative population changes to species susceptible to WNS, as well as whether this may have caused changes in niche occupation and an increase in species unsusceptible to WNS.
Lillian Knepp is a graduating senior from Stokes County, North Carolina, majoring in Environmental Studies. Her academic interests include the natural sciences, and conservation related topics. When not studying, you can find her working at the local state park, birding, and hiking.