Risk factors associated with mortality from white-nose syndrome among hibernating bat colonies

Aryn P. Wilder, Winifred F. Frick, Kate E. Langwig, Thomas H. Kunz

Abstract

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease responsible for unprecedented mortality in hibernating bats. First observed in a New York cave in 2006, mortality associated with WNS rapidly appeared in hibernacula across the northeastern United States. We used yearly presence–absence data on WNS-related mortality among hibernating bat colonies in the Northeast to determine factors influencing its spread. We evaluated hazard models to test hypotheses about the association between the timing of mortality and colony-level covariates, such as distance from the first WNS-affected site, colony size, species diversity, species composition and type of hibernaculum (cave or mine). Distance to origin and colony size had the greatest effects on WNS hazard over the range of observations; the type of hibernaculum and species composition had weaker effects. The distance effect showed a temporal decrease in magnitude, consistent with the pattern of an expanding epizootic. Large, cave-dwelling bat colonies with high proportions of Myotis lucifugus or other species that seek humid microclimates tended to experience early mortality. Our results suggest that the timing of mortality from WNS is largely dependent on colony location, and large colonies tend to be first in an area to experience high mortality associated with WNS.

  • Received March 28, 2011.
  • Accepted May 10, 2011.
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