BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A Georgia researcher who has studied one of Alabama’s biggest bat colonies says it could be all but wiped out within years by the deadly fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
Chris Cornelison, a doctoral student nose at Kennesaw State University, Jamie Nobles, Ruffner Mountain’s conservation director, and Dottie Brown of Ecological Solutions Inc. surveyed the colony at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in Birmingham early this year.
He says they counted more than 600 bats and believe more than 1,000 bats live there — but the numbers could drop by half by spring, and by 95 percent within years, he told Al.com .
“White-nose syndrome is going to move through that population pretty severely,” Cornelison said. “It would be my prediction that we’ll continue to see declines until they probably hit about five percent of that historic population.”
The bats roosting in Ruffner’s old mine shafts are tricolored bats, named for fur that is dark at the base, lighter in the middle and yellow-brown at the tip. They’re the smallest bats in Alabama, and until recently were so common that there was little push for research in the state, said Nick Sharp, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ lead bat biologist.
“The fact of the matter is, the species that are going extinct are the ones that get the money, that’s the way things work,” Sharp said. “We start studying them when they’re in danger of going extinct.”
They were Georgia’s most abundant species but the syndrome wiped out 95 percent of their population within four years, Cornelison said.
The Ruffner bats are in “at least” year two, possibly year three of an outbreak, and the third and fourth years generally show greatest mortality, he said.
Cathedral Caverns State Park, about 75 miles north, probably used to have at least as many tricolored bats, but “those have all but disappeared,” Sharp said.
Those caves also tested positive for the fungus.
Alabama caves that have tested positive for white-nose have all shown a 70-95 percent drop in observed tricolored bat populations within a few years of the arrival of the disease.
Information from: The Birmingham News, http://www.al.com/birminghamnews