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White-nose syndrome: bat study launched by northern B.C. high school student

03/20/2015 10:46 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT
A high school student in northern B.C. is helping to prepare researchers for the anticipated spread of a fungus that has killed millions of bats across North America.

“I’m conducting a survey to see people's opinions and hopefully get some numbers on the bats up here, because we know next to nothing about the bats," says Kevala Van Volkenburg, a Grade 12 student in Fort St. John, B.C.

Van Volkenburg is gathering the information through an online survey as part of a project for an upcoming regional science fair, but she also hopes the information will also be useful for other researchers.

A fungus called white-nose syndrome originated in the U.S. and has nearly wiped out the airborne mammals in Eastern Canada. The disease is caused by a fungus that grows over the bats' faces while they hibernate in winter.

White-nose syndrome has been spreading at an average rate of 200 to 250 kilometres per year, according to the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative. 

Van Volkenburg says it's estimated the disease will reach Fort St. John in five to ten years. But with no information on the types or number of bats in the region, it will be difficult for researchers to understand the impact of the fungus.

So far, she's collected about 180 responses. She's hoping to have 500 by April 16, the day of the science fair in Dawson Creek, B.C.

Van Volkenburg was inspired to do the project when her biology teacher told her about white-nose syndrome, prompting her to want to learn more about bats.

She says when she contacted Bats B.C. to see what kind of data was available, she found out there was none.

“I was really surprised," said Van Volkenburg. "I thought that we would be gathering more data, but apparently we don’t know much about bats up here."

The Grade 12 student has participated in science fairs and national and international levels. Next year she will be enrolled in the biomedical studies program at UNBC.

To listen to the interview with Kevala Van Volkenburg click on the audio labelled: Looking for bats in Fort St. John, B.C.

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