Nearly 90 percent of Indiana bats could be killed off by the year 2022 according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.
It is because of a deadly fungal disease that has been spreading from the eastern United States to the Midwest. White Nose Syndrome, a fatal fungal disease, has already killed millions of bats in the U.S. and is a particular threat to the endangered Indiana bat.
In the next decade, the disease is expected to reduce the number of female Indiana bats to less than 29,000 based on U.S. Geological Survey models.
USGS quantitative ecologist Wayne Thogmartin says the key is whether the remaining populations will be immune to the disease. If they are, they have a chance of coming back, though there will still be threats.
“One of the other consequences is that when they’re at small population sizes, these small populations have a difficult time making it through the winter,” he says. “They cuddle in winter to save energy and it’s harder to do that when there aren’t enough bats around.”
White Nose Syndrome was confirmed in Indiana two years ago. But Indiana State University biology professor and bat specialist Joy O’Keefe says Indiana has not seen the same trends as many of the northeastern states.
“If patterns were the same then we should have already seen a decline in our summer bats in Indiana because we’ve had White Nose present in our hibernaculum for a couple years now, and we haven’t seen those declines,” she says.
Still, O’Keefe says it is likely the state’s Indiana bat population will be impacted significantly, and it is always best to prepare for the worst.