White-nose syndrome (WNS) adversely affects millions of bats hibernating in caves of the eastern United States. Beginning in 2009, the US Fish and Wildlife Service supported use of a wing damage index (WDI) scoring system (scale of 0 to 3, or no damage to severe) to assess wing damage of bats captured during summer. Based on bat captures at 459 mist net sites in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey, USA, we questioned whether WDI scores varied by species group, date, and distance to the closest known affected hibernaculum. We also compared relative health (body mass index [BMI] scores) to WDI scores. Of 3,419 bats (nine species), only four individuals (0.1%; little brown [Myotis lucifugus] and northern bats [Myotis septentrionalis]) were scored as a 3 and 47 (1.4%; big brown [Eptesicus fuscus], little brown, and northern bats) as a 2. All tree bats (eastern red [Lasiurus borealis], hoary [Lasiurus cinereus], and silver-haired bats [Lasionycteris noctivagans]) scored a 0 or 1, suggesting that these species were not affected by WNS. The average WDI score decreased as summer progressed, although trends were weak. Average WDI score and number of bats with class 2 and 3 damage increased with proximity to a known WNS-positive hibernaculum. Similarly, the number of bats with severe wing damage (scoring 2 or 3) was greater at sites closer to infected hibernacula, but little variance was explained by the trend. When species-specific BMI was examined, trends were consistent by sex (female BMI scores were higher than those of males), but no relationship was discovered between BMI and WDI scores. We conclude that, at this larger geographic scale, WDI is not a clear indicator of bat health.
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Vol. 47 • No. 1