Knowledge of current trends of quickly spreading infectious wildlife diseases is vital to efficient and effective management. We developed space-time mixed-effects logistic regressions to characterize a disease, white-nose syndrome (WNS), quickly spreading among endangered Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) in eastern North America. Our goal was to calculate and map the risk probability faced by uninfected colonies of hibernating Indiana bats. Model covariates included annual distance from and direction to nearest sources of infection, geolocational information, size of the Indiana bat populations within each wintering population, and total annual size of populations known or suspected to be affected by WNS. We considered temporal, spatial, and spatiotemporal formulae through the use of random effects for year, complex (a collection of interacting hibernacula), and yearxcomplex. Since first documented in 2006, WNS has spread across much of the range of the Indiana bat. No sizeable wintering population now occurs outside of the migrational distance of an infected source. Annual rates of newly affected wintering Indiana bat populations between winter 2007 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011 were 4, 6, 8, and 12%; this rate increased each year at a rate of 3%. If this increasing rate of newly affected populations continues, all wintering populations may be affected by 2016. Our models indicated the probability of a wintering population exhibiting infection was a linear function of proximity to affected Indiana bat populations and size of the at-risk population. Geographic location was also important, suggesting broad-scale influences. For every 50-km increase in distance from a WNS-affected population, risk of disease declined by 6% (95% CI=5.2-5.7%); for every increase of 1,000 Indiana bats, there was an 8% (95% CI = 1-21%) increase in disease risk. The increasing rate of infection seems to be associated with the movement of this disease into the core of the Indiana bat range. Our spatially explicit estimates of disease risk may aid managers in prioritizing surveillance and management for wintering populations of Indiana bats and help understand the risk faced by other hibernating bat species.
Additional publication details
Space-time models for a panzootic in bats, with a focus on the endangered Indiana bat