A new report paints a bleak picture for North Georgia bats and scientists say they know why.
Blame White-Nose Syndrome. A summation of last year’s bat count numbers by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources makes that plain. DNR scientists have been counting each winter in ten different North Georgia cave sites since White-Nose Syndrome hit Georgia in 2013. After last year’s count they say cave hibernating populations have plummeted by 92 percent of their before White-Nose numbers.
DNR Biologist Trina Morris says she expected that after watching White-Nose Syndrome in the Northeast but she isn’t sure what might happen next.
“It'll be a long time before we know if these bats are actually going to persist in smaller numbers or if they're going to blink out,” she said.
That’s because the bat most affected in North Georgia caves, the Tri-Colored Bat, also lives in non-hibernating populations south of Georgia’s cave country. Morris says they know that means those bats are safe from White-Nose Syndrome.
What she and other scientists don’t know is just how many of those bats are on the larger landscape and whether or not they are having lots of babies. Bats can have surprisingly long life spans, sometimes living longer than 20 years, so it may take that long before the picture becomes clear. The DNR is in its second year of a bat survey at the Ocmulgee National Monument in Middle Georgia aimed at better understanding non-cave hibernating bats.
Counting bats is hard. Catching them takes practice and isn’t even the best way to get a look at their numbers. A better source of data are the annual recordings of their echolocation calls. Trina Morris says the DNR could use drivers for those echolocation recording routes and that DNR is always looking for bat conservation volunteers. If that’s you, you can find out more at http://www.georgiawildlife.com/WNS.