The order Chiroptera - which comprises up to a quarter of all mammals of the world - have declined significantly in the past century. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers that almost half of the bat species are currently threatened or near threatened globally. In Europe, bat populations have been showing downward trends for the past 50 years, especially throughout Western Europe.
At present, 22% of European bat species are catalogued as Endangered (EN) or Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN. Strict species and habitat protection, accompanied by investments in research to improve conservation strategies, have stabilized populations for a number of species. However, population trends and key threatening processes are not fully understood for the vast majority of species and, overall, bats remain vulnerable in most EU Member States.
Habitat destruction, environmental degradation and climate change poses a serious increasing threat to biodiversity. In combination with these, novel diseases emergence and disease outbreaks are increasingly being recognized as a threat to animal health and an important driver of change in population dynamics. Free ranging species that are small and difficult to find in their natural environment may experience high mortality outbreaks and yet remain undetected for several years or even decades. In the case of cryptic species such as bats, the presence of disease may come to light too late to mitigate their devastating effects. One of this examples is the recent introduction of Pseudogymnoascus destructant fungi in bat populations from North America, which causes the well known “White Nose Syndrome” (WNS).
Long-term research aimed to provide baseline data for chiropteran populations is, therefore, a cornerstone for their conservation. Within our research activities, we aim to develop a monitoring program for bat species around NE-Spain and provide evidence of the role of infectious agents on free-ranging bat population dynamics.