In all, 103 bats were counted in the hibernacula and the presence of two species, little brown bats and northern myotis, were confirmed. Both species are endangered in Canada.
A previously known cave confirmed as a hibernaculum in 2013-2014 was re-visited by Alberta Environment and Parks bat specialist Dave Hobson and BatCaver coordinators Greg Horne and Dave Critchley, along with Nate DeBock, BatCaver, volunteer and member of the Alberta Speleological Society. In early February 2016, the species of the bats were confirmed and the first accurate bat count was completed for this cave.
Northern myotis were observed as single bats, but the little browns were in clusters of up to 42 individuals. Northern myotis tend to tuck away into rock crevices, so it is likely that more exist in the caves than were counted.
When asked about the significance of this finding, Dr. Cori Lausen, Bat Specialist with WCS Canada, responded, “This is an exciting discovery because it puts us one step closer to understanding critical habitat needs for these environmentally important animals – and hopefully one step closer to being able to prevent or reduce the drastic population declines that might be just around the corner.”
During the same trip, the BatCaver coordinators were alerted to another cave in the area, which was also confirmed to be a bat hibernaculum. A roostlogger – equipment used to record bat ultrasound – was placed near three hibernating bats (two northern myotis and possibly one little brown). Although this cave has the potential to house more bats in the winter, it remains largely unexplored. Acoustic recordings will be used to determine whether further exploration of this cave is warranted.
These two confirmed hibernacula are likely to be just the start of a large number of such discoveries by WCS Canada’s BatCaver program as spring arrives and bats start to emerge from hibernation. The BatCaver program has deployed over 50 bat detectors underground across western Canada. As access opens to these remote sites at high elevations, the data from the detectors will start to fill critical knowledge gaps about where bats in western Canada hibernate in winter.
”Even hibernacula with small numbers of bats give us new information about the type of winter habitat each species requires,” says Lausen. “Bats disappear underground for a significant amount of time each year, and with the help of cavers, each new discovered location puts us one step closer to solving the mystery of what our many species of bats do each winter.”
WCS Canada research into bats in western Canada aims to prepare for the arrival of White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that is wiping out bats in eastern Canada. WNS strikes bats while they hibernate in winter, and this program seeks to address gaps in understanding about the behaviour and ecology of up to 14 species. One of the newly-explored caves is being used by commercial guided caving groups during the summer. Discussions with stakeholders are taking place to ensure that precautions are taken to avoid introducing the fungus that causes WNS into the cave and to educate cavers on how important it is to avoid disturbing bats during winter hibernation.
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Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada was incorporated as a conservation organization in Canada in 2004. The mission of WCS Canada is to conserve wildlife and wild places by understanding the issues, developing science-based solutions, and working with others to carry out conservation actions across Canada. WCS Canada is distinguished from other environmental organizations through our role in generating science through field and applied research, and by using our results to encourage collaboration among scientific communities, organizations and policy makers to achieve conservation results.
WCS Canada is independently registered and managed, while retaining a strong collaborative working relationship with sister WCS programs in more than 65 countries. Visit: www.wcscanada.org
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