Researchers meet in Victoria for first bat conference

Researchers meet in Victoria for first bat conference

Inside the Hotel Grand Pacific, bat experts gather to discuss the problems facing the animal.

For the first time, Victoria is the host city for the Western Bat Working Group, which features bat biologists from around western Canada and the United States.

“We have federal biologists, provincial, state, federal Canadian and federal U.S. biologists here, all specializing in bats,” says Cori Lausen, Director of Bat Conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.

“So it’s a meeting of the minds to figure out what can we do to help bats.”

Bats are a species under threat, with the conference focusing on the two main problems currently facing bats, one of which is wind turbines.

“Bats, when they approach wind turbines, are either getting hit by the tips, which are moving way faster than their echolocation can detect, or they get into a very low-pressure zone and that actually causes their blood vessels to burst,” says Lausen.

As the use of renewable energy such as wind turbines continues to grow in B.C., it’s a problem that will get worse.

“Wind energy is expanding just south of the border,” says Dr. Erin Baerwald from the University of Northern B.C.

“It’s a huge industry there, and up in the Peace country, it’s expanding there as well, so it’s something we really need to be paying attention to.”

The other issue is white-nose syndrome, a disease that attacks bats’ wings and faces as they’re hibernating.

“It’s like mouldy bats, and unfortunately, the bats keep waking up in the winter and grooming it off, or it even eats big holes in their wings,” says Lausen.

“We do have the fungus that causes that disease now in this province, and we don’t know how it’s going to impact our bats.”

Bats play an essential part in pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and controlling pests and as they have long life cycles, any dent in the population could take generations to rectify.

“If something happens to the population and it declines, it takes them a very long time to recover, and so they need to be treated with a little bit of extra care.”

The group hopes to have some solutions on the table by the end of the conference on Friday, April 20.

Cole SorensonCole Sorenson

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