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NewsNov 7, 2018

Battling the blight on bats

Lesley researcher receives $10,000 grant to study effects of white-nose syndrome on infected colonies

Hands stretch out a bat on a light box to examine it's wing.

Christopher Richardson, a member of our science faculty, is the recipient of a $10,000 grant from the Morris Animal Foundation to study the effect of white-nose syndrome on little brown myotis bats.

Faculty Christopher Richardson
Christopher Richardson

White-nose syndrome was first documented in 2006 and has since devastated countless populations of hibernating bats in eastern North America. Richardson’s study will address how the disease affects energy use, immune response and the impact on reproduction of the little brown bat, one of the species hit hardest by the disease. Less than 10 percent of a once-robust population has survived the outbreak.

“In some places they’re coming back, they’re reproducing, they’re surviving, but other colonies are not doing so well,” said Richardson, a longtime faculty member. “The question is why.”

To answer that, Richardson will collaborate with Northern Arizona University faculty Jeff Foster and University of New Hampshire doctoral candidate Katherine Ineson on the project. The three will study how the remaining little brown bat populations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire respond to and recover from the syndrome.

Close up of a bat.
Close up of a bat's wing as Richardson extracts a blood sample.

Lesley University and other New England area students will work with Richardson and Ineson on the year-long project as they assess the risks posed by the fungus on female bats, particularly during vulnerable periods of pregnancy and lactation.

“My goal is to turn this into a predictive model,” Richardson explained.

Findings will be used to gauge the overall health of remnant colonies, assess their long-term ability to recover from the epidemic and inform management strategies to help more bats survive and thrive. Richardson hopes the results of this study will lead to further opportunities to research and aid in the recovery of the bat population.