Research

- Bill’s research has been published in the Bat Ecology Book.

- This research was published in a leading scientific journal.

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Histoplasmosis and Blastomycosis

Many fungi are extremely helpful to people and essential for our fragile ecosystem. However, there are two local fungi that can be extremely dangerous to people and their pets. They are Ajellomyces capsulatus and Ajellomyces dermatidis, better known as Histoplasma capsulatum and Blastomyces dermatitidis.

Ajellomyces capsulatus causes the infectious disease histoplasmosis.The fungi releases small spores called conidia that can be inhaled and infect the lungs. The symptoms are often mild but can be severe producing illness similar to tuberculosis. The disease may also affect other parts of the body, such as the skin or eyes.  The fungus is generally found living on bird or bat droppings (photo 12). It appears to thrive in nitrogen rich soil. People should avoid bat areas with large accumulations of bird or bat droppings. However, the presence of droppings in an area does not mean that the fungus is always present. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, the absolute number of cases of histoplasmosis in Canada at this time is not known. In the St. Lawrence River Valley, where the infection may occur frequently, 20-30 percent of the population tests positive. It is estimated that over 50 million people have been infected in North America with about 500,000 persons testing positive each year.

The very closely related fungus, Ajellomyces dermatidis, causes the disease blastomycosis. The symptoms of the disease are very similar to those found in regards to histoplasmosis. The fungus is often found growing in rotting wood and nitrogen rich soil. It is generally found in areas with high humidity and near a water source, but there is little known about its natural history. Generally the only time that we hear of the fungus being mentioned is when we hear of dogs, cats or people becoming infected. There have been several cases of infected pets and people in the Georgian Bay and Muskoka area in recent years.

Individuals with a suppressed immune system due to HIV or drug treatments because of medical situations are at greatest risk of developing histoplasmosis and blastomycosis. People who are involved with the cleanup and removal of bird droppings, bat guano and infected areas should take special precautions. These diseases can lead to permanent health problems and possibly death. These diseases are also often misdiagnosed. When correctly identified in early stages, various antifungal drugs are available for treatment.

Presently, the distribution and life cycles are not well known for either species. We also lack the ability to quickly identify their presence in a natural setting and very little is known in regards to the treatment of materials or areas in which these fungi are growing.

Research has been proposed for the Georgian Bay and Muskoka regions to help increase our knowledge about these fungi. The development and testing of molecular assays for the detection of these fungi in their natural environment will assist in learning their distributions and natural history. This will also bring us one step closer to the identification and treatment of infected sites and materials.

We will all benefit from this research being conducted and any assistance in locating infected areas will help to develop treatments for infected areas. We would appreciate information regarding large accumulations of bird or bat droppings and dogs, pets or people infected with blastomycosis or histoplasmosis.

 

Bat Research on Georgian Bay and Muskoka

To many people bats are perceived as having no economic value and therefore should all be exterminated. They are seen as signs of evil, disease carrying, blood sucking pests that infest people’s homes and cottages. In fact, bats have great economic value and play an extremely important role in our ecosystems. These amazing animals have the power of flight, echolocate, pollinate, distribute seeds, eat disease carrying insects, provide fertilizer, and help in medical research. These animals are poorly understood and much more research needs to be done to understand these amazing animals.

To provide a better understanding of these amazing animals, I will be conducting research on the 30,000 Islands for the next 4 years. The research asks the question:

“What influences the colonization of the Georgian Bay 30,000 islands by House Bats and does olfactory communication affect their roost selection?”

The research will be conducted throughout the shores of Georgian Bay, the 30,000 Islands, Muskoka, Bruce Peninsula and Mantiloulin Island. The bat species that I will be examining are insectivorous House Bats or Little Brown bats (Myotis lucifugus).

The first step in the research is to determine the location of roosts (maternity colonies). This will be accomplished through both contacts from the community and from active searches of the study area. Any information regarding the location of bat colonies would be greatly appreciated. Mist nets, and hand nets will be used to capture bats. Data will be collected on the sex, size, weight, reproductive status. Before captured bats will be released, all will be banded. The banding will allow for monitoring of the bats movements, reproductive status for the next several years. The banding will also help with conservation practices, future research and help to increase our understanding of Little Brown Bats. Forearm bands will not harm the bats in any way.

When the bats are captured, I will also be collecting tissue samples from wing membranes for genetic analysis. The genetic samples will be collected from the wing membranes of each bat. This will be accomplished through taking small wing punches (<2mm) from each bat. The bats are not harmed and the tissue regeneration in bat wing membranes is extremely rapid and will not be noticeable in just a few weeks. The data collected from the genetic analysis will allow me to see the genetic similarities, provide a better understanding of the movement, distribution and colonization.

Olfactory Communications

The specialization of specific sense organs and the behaviours used to convey information depends upon the organism and in mammals nocturnal behaviour may have stressed olfactory communication (Eisenberg and Kleiman, 1983). Examination of all bat species show glandular regions or distributing structures used to convey olfactory information (Scully, 2000). Little Brown Bats mark the entry/exit ports with urine, guano and glandular secretions. This may be a form of scent marking. Some bats are similar to homing pigeons where they return to the same roost year after year. These olfactory cues may assist in helping to locate previous roosting areas. These olfactory cues would also assist juveniles that are learning to fly and trying to locate daytime roosts. Some maternity colonies consist of hundreds and sometimes thousands of bats. This can result in large accumulations of guano, urine and glandular secretions which may be providing extremely strong olfactory cues.

All identified bat colonies and immediate areas will be carefully examined to determine the location of scent marking areas where bats have deposited urine, guano and glandular secretions. Several experiments have been designed to help determine the role of olfactory communication in the lives of the bats.

Any information regarding the location of maternity colonies would be greatly appreciated. I would be happy to discuss my research or any questions people may have about these amazing animals.