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Going to Bat...for Kentucky's Bats

In addition to harboring one of the country’s most diverse and abundant collections of mussels, the Green River harbors federally-endangered Indiana bats and Gray bats that depend on the habitat to feed, roost and breed. In 2011, the Conservancy assisted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) with studying bat populations along a particularly special stretch of the Green using mist nets to allow for safe capture and research.

“Documenting bats in this location increases eligibility for certain federal funds to protect important habitat for these endangered animals and advance our mission in Kentucky,” says Jeff Sole, the Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Programs in Kentucky.

In addition to mist netting, which confirmed the presence of Gray bats, the Conservancy and the USFWS conducted an Anabat Survey to record and identify echolocation calls to reveal activity in an area.

“The survey indicated the presence of federally-endangered Indiana bats along this stretch of the Green,” adds Sole, “However, more mist netting will be necessary to confirm this finding.”

Whether bats, mussels or another imperiled species or habitat, the Conservancy is glad to be working with longtime partner, the USFWS.

“We find ourselves in many of the same places,” says Lee Andrews, supervisor of the USFWS Ecological Services Field Office in Kentucky.

Studying bat populations along the Green River became especially relevant in light of the arrival of white-nose syndrome in Kentucky in early 2011. First detected by scientists in New York in 2006, this mysterious disease has afflicted brown bats, northern long-eared bats, small-footed bats, eastern pipstrelle and Indiana bats throughout the northeast.

Bats with white-nose syndrome – named due to white halos of fungus which develop around their nose – use up fat reserves during hibernation and leave caves during winter to find food. They eventually die of starvation after futile searches for dormant insects. Once a colony is affected, white-nose syndrome spreads rapidly and can kill all of the hibernating bats – fatalities which far exceed the reproductive pace of one pup per female per year. Scientists are scrambling to identify the cause and geographical scope of the disease. There is no evidence to suggest it is harmful to humans or other organisms.

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