Endangered Indiana bats face twin threat from wind turbines and white-nose syndrome

Indiana bats hibernating in a cave. PHOTO COURTESY USGS/ANDREW KING.
Indiana bats hibernating in a cave. PHOTO COURTESY USGS/ANDREW KING.

Small hibernating bat colonies need protection to prevent extinction

Staff Report

Between collisions with wind turbines and deadly white-nose syndrome, endangered Indiana bats may not have much of a chance of recovering, according to a recently published U.S. Geological Survey study.

The researchers used a scientific model to compare how wind turbine mortality and WNS may singly and then together affect Indiana bat population dynamics throughout the species’ U.S. range.

Bats are valuable because, by eating insects, they save U.S. agriculture billions of dollars per year in pest control,” said USGS scientist Richard Erickson, the lead author of the study. “Our research is important for understanding the threats to endangered Indiana bats and can help inform conservation efforts.”

Wind energy generation can cause bat mortality when certain species, including the midwestern Indiana bat, approach turbines during migration. Meanwhile, WNS, which is caused by the Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus, has killed millions of hibernating bats in North America and is spreading. The new study found that the combination of these two hazards has a larger negative impact on Indiana bats than either threat alone.

Findings from the model include:

  • Wind turbine deaths were localized and more likely to affect small sub-populations of bats, whereas WNS was more likely to devastate large winter colonies over the species’ entire range;
  • Together, the two threats reduced the sizes of all Indiana bat sub-populations;
  • WNS had the largest impact on population dynamics, with the most severe potential die-off scenario showing a population loss of about 95 percent; and
  • Despite killing fewer animals than WNS, wind turbines disrupted Indiana bat migration routes, which affected metapopulation dynamics more than WNS did in almost all modeled scenarios. A bat metapopulation consists of separated groups of the same species that interact during migration.

“These findings are useful for wildlife managers because they demonstrate the extra importance of protecting small Indiana bat colonies during the winter to help prevent extinction,” Erickson said.

For more information about bats, wind energy and WNS, please visit the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center websites.

Visit whitenosesyndrome.org to learn about the coordinated response to WNS, led by the USFWS.

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One thought on “Endangered Indiana bats face twin threat from wind turbines and white-nose syndrome

  1. Similar problems happen with eagles and other birds, but who cares? As long as the turbines are lumped in with the other renewable energy sources nothing will be done.

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