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United Nations report paints bleak picture for P.E.I.’s brown bat

Contributed photo by Jordi Segers.
The little brown bat (also known as the little brown Myotis) is one of a handful of species listed as threatened on P.E.I. by the Species At Risk Act.
The little brown bat (also known as the little brown Myotis) is one of a handful of species listed as threatened on P.E.I. by the Species At Risk Act. - Contributed photo by Jordi Segers

Unless drastic action is taken by humanity, more than one million species of plant and animal life face extinction within the next handful of decades.

That was the bleak conclusion reached recently by a United Nations study, compiled from research sources around the world. The report comes from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

Given these stark findings, SaltWire Network journalists across Atlantic Canada are taking a closer look at some of the flora and fauna at risk in our own provincial backyards.

Here on P.E.I., one animal, in particular, the little brown bat, can serve as a warning as to just how quickly human influence can turn the fortune of a species.

Only a few years ago the little brown bat was one of the most common bat species in North America, but a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome, which prematurely forces the animals out of winter hibernation, has dramatically reduced their numbers over the past decade. White-nose syndrome was first detected on P.E.I. in 2013. The small, winged mammal is now listed as endangered in Canada under the Species at Risk Act.

Other endangered species on P.E.I.

  • Piping plover | Endangered

A combination of wild and domestic predators, human and natural disturbances of plover nests and extreme climate events have all conspired to severely reduce the number of piping plovers on P.E.I.

  • Northern long-eared bat | Endangered

Afflicted by a fungal disease, white-nose syndrome, that disrupts bats’ hibernation cycles

  • Monarch butterfly | Endangered

Increased herbicide use throughout their range has drastically cut the habitat of the monarch caterpillars, which prefer swampy milkweed meadows.

  • Red knot (bird) | Endangered

Overfishing of horseshoe crabs has depleted the red knot’s main food source during migration, the crab’s eggs.

“Endangered is the step right before extirpation or removal from a particular area, and then extinction, which is disappearing globally. So it’s one of the most serious listings. It means the little brown bat in Canada is at imminent risk of disappearing,” said Tessa McBurney, Atlantic Bat Conservation Project technician with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative in Charlottetown.

McBurney is working closely with the public and other stakeholders to monitor the population of bats in Prince Edward Island, but it’s not an easy task considering how little is known about them.

It was only a couple of years ago that it was confirmed bats were overwintering in the island province at all. The locations of those roosting locations are still closely guarded secrets, lest humans visit and potentially spread white-nose syndrome.

McBurney now monitors a P.E.I. bat hotline, 1-833-434-BATS (2287), where Islanders are encouraged to report dead or living bats. It received 178 calls in the past year, 157 of which reported a sighting.

McBurney is encouraged by the fact that she is still getting reports of live bats at all – but dead specimens with white-nose syndrome are also still turning up and that is worrisome.

It’s unclear at this point if the disease will completely wipe out the little brown bat or if enough of the population will develop immunity and repopulate.

The UN report makes it clear that what is happening to this species of bat is happening to hundreds of thousands of other species on our planet, even if the direct causes vary, said Carolyn Brown, director, environmental studies at the University of Prince Edward Island.

“I was unfortunately not surprised by (the report),” said Brown.

“We have drastically changed the habitat of so many of these species. That crowds them out of where they would prefer to live.”

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