WMRC&D Supports Project to Survey Endangered Bats and Allegheny Woodrat

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In partnership with the Maryland DNR Wildlife & Heritage Service, Western Maryland RC&D Council is employing a Bat Surveyor, Ben Neece, to complete acoustic surveys for bats and the analysis of acoustic data to indicate the presence of hibernating and breeding bat species, particularly those affected by White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in western Maryland. Ben is also assisting with the survey of Allegheny woodrat, a state endangered species.

Although cryptic and often unnoticed by humans, bats play important ecological roles and provide highly beneficial ecosystem services. Unfortunately, bat populations are being impacted by disease, habitat disturbance and alteration, and energy development. The introduction of the deadly bat disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS) has decimated populations of North American cave-hibernating bat species, killing millions of bats since at least 2006 when it was first detected. Humans are not able to contract WNS, but can spread fungal spores on clothing and gear which can introduce the disease to new bat communities.

Passive ultrasonic acoustic detectors allow an alternative survey method that avoids contact with bats and their roosts. With the assistance of computer software, the acoustic recordings can be analyzed to determine the bat species or species group based on characteristics of the echolocation calls. We are conducting these acoustic surveys to determine the presence of sensitive bat species at roost sites and foraging habitat, which will improve our understanding of current distributions and inform conservation and management decisions.

Allegheny woodrat is found in higher elevation rocky forested habitat in some areas of western Maryland. Their populations in the state have severely declined in recent years due to a number of factors, likely severely reducing the genetic diversity of populations. A multi-state, multi-organizational effort is underway to survey their populations, determine local genetic diversity, and improve population viability. We are employing mark-recapture methods to survey populations, record biometric data, and also collecting small tissue samples to contribute to the genetic study.