Guest blog: resource scientist Tony Elliott recaps Missouri bat surveys

In the middle of a tough hibernation season for bats, it is great to hear some good news. ?With several new states and a third Canadian province confirming a number of new WNS sites in 2011, Missouri remains hopeful that the disease will not take hold. I was fortunate enough to be invited to assist in some Indiana bat and WNS surveys with Missouri Department of Conservation resource scientist Tony Elliot and cave biology assistant Shelly Colatskie earlier this year. Tony was kind enough to offer this update after MDC’s winter survey season.

We have wrapped a busy winter of cave survey efforts here in Missouri. Our focus this winter has been on conducting bat counts at our main Indiana bat hibernation sites and surveillance for signs of white-nose syndrome.

I look forward to these surveys because they are a chance to get out in the field, visit different caves throughout the state, and (best of all) see a bunch of bats. However, the need to conduct WNS surveillance added a sense of trepidation to my outlook heading into this year’s surveys. We documented the presence of the fungus associated with WNS at a couple of locations in Missouri last spring and therefore expected to see some signs of the disease this winter. We adjusted the timing of our surveys a bit to give ourselves the best chance of seeing signs of WNS if it was present, stocked up decontamination supplies, and slowly began surveys in mid-December hitting full stride in early February.

Despite quite a bit of snowfall for this part of the country, we were able to conduct all of our surveys as planned with no major problems (yes – that means there were some minor problems, but no need to go into details here). We soon tired of the smell of bleach and other decontamination cleansers, but were encouraged by seemingly stable bat numbers and no signs of WNS. We did send a few samples in to the lab for testing, but they all came back negative for both the disease and presence of the fungus. Also, we have not received any reports of bats dying outside of caves in Missouri.

So, for now, the news out of Missouri is good. We could still pick up signs of the fungus again this spring, but “our” bats are becoming active and we would be very surprised to see any WNS mortality this spring. Also, the preliminary results of our bat counts indicate that bat numbers are probably stable compared to surveys conducted two years ago.

Earlier I mentioned looking forward to these surveys for several reasons; the other big reason is the people that I get to interact with during this work. I get to go out into the field with land managers from within my own agency and partner agencies throughout the state. I also work with private land owners and citizens who are involved in cave conservation and protection. All of these individuals are a tremendous help during the surveys, whether allowing us access to or guiding us through a site we could not do this work without them. Additionally, the folks that go into the field with us consistently provide different perspectives, good challenging questions, and good humor to our work. We appreciate all of the assistance and look forward to the next survey period, hoping against hope that WNS continues to spare Missouri’s bats.