Bats are a critical component of Minnesota’s ecosystems. In October 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the northern long-eared bat (NLEB) under the federal Endangered Species Act, largely due to the impact of white-nose syndrome on bat populations. White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), which causes increased winter activity and extremely high mortality rates of cave-hibernating bats. At this point we do not know that declines of this magnitude will occur in Minnesota. We do know that WNS has been moving through bat populations in the eastern states and provinces, with range expansions of WNS occurring every year. Obtaining knowledge about maternity roosts before this decline occurs is critical, as will be insights into management to reduce mortality in maternal roosts following the appearance of WNS in Minnesota. Even if mortality rates can be reduced, there is still likely to be a drastic reduction in bat populations.
These researchers have been building the capacity to do a larger research project in Minnesota after pilot studies in 2013 and 2014. This project will use available data, surveys, and the latest radio-tracking methods to improve knowledge of northern long-eared bat summer forest habitat use. The project will identify the most critical periods and most critical habitat for bat reproduction in order to more effectively focus any restrictions on tree removal and to guide future bat conservation efforts. The specific activities in this project are to first review, analyze, and summarize existing unpublished data from acoustic detectors to identify gaps in knowledge about distribution. Next, the researchers will use acoustic detectors in gap areas (where acoustic surveys have not been previously conducted), and will also deploy transmitters on NLEB in the maternity season to identify roost trees. Finally, they will characterize the roost trees and the forest matrix within which NLEB raise young to develop appropriate management responses. Implementing management strategies that minimize mortality will clearly be of over-riding importance when WNS starts affecting Minnesota bats.
The Chiropteran gut microbiome is poorly understood relative to other large mammalian orders. This project will establish the baseline of taxonomic variation in the fecal microbiome of Minnesota's common sympatric species. The researchers sequenced the 16S rRNA gene and a region of the COI gene using the Illumina MiSeq platform of the fecal pellet microbiome as a minimally invasive way of profiling the gut community with DNA barcoding. Using adaptations to the Mothur bioinformatics platform developed by Pat Schloss and a unique tree based alignment method, they are identifying both prey and gut microbiome composition to a high taxonomic level. Combining these rich datasets through culturing experiments and statistical analysis will clarify the depth of connections between diet, gut microbiota, and survivorship from diseases such as WNS in a unique mammalian system.