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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Seven-year impact of white-nose syndrome on tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) populations in Georgia, USA

Santiago Perea, Julia A. Yearout, Emily A. Ferrall, Katrina M. Morris, J. T. Pynne, Steven B. Castleberry*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: White-nose syndrome (WNS) has emerged as the most serious threat to North American cave-dwelling bat species, with estimated mortality of over 6 million. Tri-colored bat Perimyotis subflavus is one of the species most affected, with hibernaculum counts at caves in WNS-positive regions reduced by >90% from previous counts. While declines have been documented in hibernaculum surveys, long-term monitoring programs during active seasons provide a unique opportunity to examine population trends and impact of population declines post-WNS. We developed generalized linear mixed models using data from a state-wide, long-term (2011–2020) mobile bat acoustic monitoring program in Georgia, USA, to better understand P. subflavus population trends before and after disease detection and between WNS-negative and WNS-positive regions. We recorded 5046 P. subflavus passes across all acoustic routes during the 10-year time period. We detected a significant decrease in activity 2 years after disease detection in the WNS-positive region, whereas activity in the WNS-negative region remained stable over time. Understanding changes in bat populations as WNS spreads and measuring the magnitude of population declines to assess disease impacts is crucial for providing appropriate guidance for management. Our results provide evidence of the critical status of P. subflavus in the southernmost WNS-positive region, but also emphasize the importance of monitoring WNS spread to new regions which could provide refugia for the species and a potential source of recolonization to WNS-affected areas.