Early treatment of white-nose syndrome is necessary to stop population decline.

Published online
05 Nov 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Grider, J. & Thogmartin, W. E. & Grant, E. H. C. & Bernard, R. F. & Russell, R. E.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
USA & North America


Since its introduction to North America, white-nose syndrome has been associated with declines greater than 90% in several bat species, prompting the development of treatments to reduce disease-related mortality. As treatment application is scaled up, predicting responses at the population level will help in the development of management plans. We develop a model allowing for the implementation of multiple treatment scenarios in bat populations at risk of severe mortality from white-nose syndrome. Our model allows for variation in over 10 parameters, including effectiveness of treatment, treatment-related disturbance, number of individuals treated, number of hibernacula treated, herd immunity and movement among hibernacula. Additionally, the model allows treatments to be applied to individuals, the hibernaculum or a combination of the two. We simulated treatments for populations of 1000, 10,000 and 100,000 individuals, with the distribution of individuals within hibernacula based on field surveys of Myotis lucifugus. When treatments are applied to individuals, we found that treatment success was most influenced by the number of bats effectively treated, the magnitude of disturbance and the year of first treatment relative to initial mortality. For treatments applied to hibernacula, we found year of first treatment relative to initial mortality, magnitude of disturbance and effectiveness of treatment to be the best predictors of success. Treatments have the potential to mitigate white-nose syndrome-related mortality, but application of treatments after initial mass mortality seems to be of limited benefit. Unknowns surrounding influential treatment parameters, such as disturbance to hibernating bats, created substantial variation across outcomes and highlight the importance of obtaining field estimates of parameters associated with treatments. Synthesis and applications: While treatment applications can increase survival from white-nose syndrome, their potential is strongly diminished when not applied before or during the early epidemic stages. Once the disease is established, increasing survival and reproduction through methods other than disease treatments could be a better option. In the United States, most areas yet to reach the late epidemic or established stage are in the west where bats do not aggregate in large colonies and treating a substantial number of individuals will be difficult.

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