Jesika Reimer, Assistant Zoologist at UAA’s Alaska Center for Conservation Science (ACCS), retrieves a Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) from a mist net so it can be banded and radio tagged on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) near Anchorage, Alaska. Photo by James R. Evans/University of Alaska Anchorage.
Until recently, not much was known about bat populations in Alaska. In 2016, white nose syndrome, the disease that is decimating bat populations mostly in the eastern continental United States and Canada, made a jump west and was discovered in Washington.
“With this fungus spreading it means people are more interested, and funding agencies are more interested, in finding out about the little brown bat. Especially in somewhere like Alaska where we didn’t know a lot,” says Jesika Reimer, an Alaska-based biologist whose research is focused on bats.
For a long time, people thought bats migrated outside of Alaska for winter hibernation. Based on when bats disappear in the fall and come out in the spring, scientists now think bats spend winters in state. They just don’t know exactly where.
Unlike most places where large roosts are found in caves, little brown bats in Alaska were always associated with buildings. Maternity colonies in attics and cabin roofs can include hundreds of bats. By tracking those bats, Reimer discovered that little browns were also roosting in hollow trees. She found some trees with bat guano piled a foot deep at the base and hundreds of bats flying out.
The discovery is a step forward. As new technology, techniques, and funding are put to use, researchers will continue to uncover the northern bats’ secrets.