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Pennsylvania

Richard O. Rowlands Preserve at Aitkin Cave


The Richard O. Rowlands Preserve at Aitkin Cave is a "bat haven" in rural central Pennsylvania. Records dating back to the 1930s identified Aitkin Cave as one of the premier bat hibernacula in Pennsylvania. The cave serves as a winter home for several species of bats: little brown bats; northern long-eared bats; eastern pipistrelles; the rare small-footed bat; the big brown bat; and the recently-sighted Indiana bat. Rare cave isopods, tiny shrimp-like creatures, are also found in the underground streams and pools at the bottom of the cave.

What You’ll See
The cave itself is composed of nearly a half mile of small to midsized passages with names like Razor Blade Road and The Tubes. There are also several karst rooms like the Breakdown Room, Anteroom, the Barn Room and the New Roost Room. In 2008, The Nature Conservancy along with the PA Game Commission identified White-nose syndrome (WNS), a recently discovered disease affecting bats, occurring in the bat population that hibernates at Aitkin Cave. Since this discovery, and due to its possible transmission from caving gear, no entrance to the cave is permitted until further notice.

Threats
Prior recreational use and disturbance. White-nose syndrome (see above and read more from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Action
Gated cave entrance to prevent disturbance. Cave currently closed to visitation due to White-nose syndrome. We are working with the Game Commission and Bucknell University on a research study to identify the pathways of WNS infection in bats and determine prevention methods or a possible cure. As part of this, we are monitoring bats to assess disease level.

Milestones
The acquisition and ongoing stewardship of the preserve were made possible through the generosity of the late Richard O. Rowlands, a long-time conservationist and Conservancy supporter originally from Wales, who most recently lived in State College, PA. The Nature Conservancy dedicated the cave and its surrounding 43 acres as the Richard O. Rowlands Preserve in May of 1993. This was the first Nature Conservancy sponsored acquisition of a cave in Pennsylvania. In 1987, The Nature Conservancy erected a steel gate to guard the cave's entrance with small openings for the bats to come and go. Prior to the gating, the heavy recreational use of the cave during hibernation (September–April) caused major disturbance to the bats, resulting in a decline in the number of bats found at the cave. (If bats are disturbed too often during the hibernation period, the fat supplies that they require for survival until spring are exhausted. This is especially true in bats affected by WNS.)

Partners
Conservancy staff collaborate regularly with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program.

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