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Michigan bat population shrinks as fungus and wind turbines take a toll

Oct 11, 2016

It's hard out here for a bat.

Especially if it's a bat in Michigan, according to Detroit News reporter Charles E. RamirezHe writes that the three biggest threats to bat populations are: "disease-causing fungus, wind turbines and loss of habitat."

“Those are the three biggies,” said Allen Kurta, an author, Eastern Michigan University biology professor, researcher and bat expert. “But I would say (the disease caused by the fungus) is probably the biggest threat.”

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the fungus is named Pseudogymnoascus destructans, and it causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), which is "named for the white fungus that sometimes develops on the muzzle of the bat." 

The MDNR says more than a million bats have already died from WNS. While bats hibernate during winter, the fungus causes them to wake up prematurely. This causes the bats to weaken as they burn through their fat reserves.

According to Michigan Radio's Lindsey Scullen, the disease is believed to come from Europe. It's harming one species — the northern long-eared bat — so much that there are policies in place to protect them from intentional and accidental killings.

Ramirez also reports that Michigan's 887 wind turbines are also hurting bats. More from the story:

"Bats that migrate south for the winter are being affected by wind turbines and researchers are trying to figure out why."

"American Wind spokesman David Ward said the group and its members are working to reduce the number of bat fatalities caused by wind turbines."

"Last year, the association developed its best management practices expected to reduce the impact of wind turbines on bats by 30 percent, he said."

Bats are also being harmed as "their environments continue to shrink because of climate change," says Ramirez. 

So, how can you help these furry creatures? Consider some of these tips from Michigan Radio.