AEDC team members assist with bat research

On a cold, drizzly day in December, Arnold Air Force Base team members ventured into a wet, muddy cave to add to the data concerning white nose syndrome and tricolored bats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the species as endangered in September 2022 due to the impacts of WNS, a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans.

“WNS is caused by the growth of a fungus that sometimes looks like white fuzz on bats’ muzzles and wings,” said Dr. Amy Turner, National Environmental Policy Act, natural and cultural resources planner for Arnold AFB. “The fungus thrives in cold, dark, damp places and infects bats during winter cave hibernation. Impacted bats wake up more frequently, which often results in dehydration and starvation before spring arrives.”

The disease, for which there is no known cure, has been confirmed in 38 states since first being documented in the U.S. in 2006.

While there are no caves on Arnold AFB property, there are bat species that overwinter in the caves off base and are known to inhabit the forests of Arnold AFB the rest of the year.

The data collected in December and on a follow-up trip early this year will contribute to a study being conducted by researchers with Virginia Tech. The study is an investigation on how tricolored bats are surviving with WNS in some areas while in most of their range their population has declined.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, “White-nose syndrome has caused estimated declines of more than 90% in affected tricolored bat colonies and is currently present across 59% of the species’ range.”

Locally, John Lamb, Arnold AFB biologist, has seen an 88.75% decline in capture rates of tricolored bats on base during summer survey work.

Arnold AFB team members took temperature measurements, swabbed bats and their surrounding environment and banded bats for future identification if recaught. The swabs and data are sent to the researchers for analysis, with Arnold AFB receiving reports of the results as a study participant. This was the second year that Arnold AFB has participated in the study.

While conducting studies of the bats and other wildlife is important, precautions must be taken to protect both bats and people. Only qualified biologists with a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may work with endangered species. In Tennessee, a permit is required from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to work with any wildlife species.

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