The dreaded fungus that has killed millions of North American bats has a new name. The white, cold-loving fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome, and gave this devastating wildlife disease its name, has been known since 2009 as Geomyces destructans. The U.S. Forest Service reports that additional genetic research by its scientists indicates the fungus should be classified within a different genus and will be called Pseudogymnoascus destructans – or the more pronounceable P. destructans (or just PD).
“This research represents more than just a name change,” said Mylea Bayless, Bat Conservation International’s director of conservation programs in the United States and Canada. “Understanding the evolutionary relationships between this fungus and its cousins in Europe and North America should help us narrow our search for solutions to WNS.”
The study was conducted by Andrew Minnis and Daniel Lindner of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Madison, Wisconsin, and published in the journal Fungal Biology.
Bats with the white, powdery fungus on their faces and wings were first spotted at a cave in upstate New York in February 2006. Bats began dying in large numbers the following year and White-nose Syndrome got its name. Since then, more than 6 million bats have died in 22 states and 5 Canadian provinces. It continues to spread across the continent.
Interest in the fungus has led to investigations of fungi associated with bat hibernation sites and many fungal species, quite a few previously unknown, have been found, Minnis and Lindner report. The researchers included such species in their DNA analyses, which led to the assignment of a new genus. Only P. destructans is routinely lethal to bats.
The results also indicate, they said, that P. destructans is not closely related to any of the other species in the study, “thus providing further support to the hypothesis that this pathogen is non-native and invasive in eastern North America.”
“This research increases our confidence that this disease-causing fungus is, in fact, an invasive species,” Bayless said. “Its presence among bats in Europe, where it does not cause mass mortality, could suggest hope for bats suffering from this devastating wildlife disease. Time will tell.”
“Identification of the closest known relatives of this fungus makes it possible to move forward with genetic work to examine the molecular toolbox this fungus uses to kill bats,” said Lindner, a research plant pathologist. “Ultimately, we hope to use this information to be able to interrupt the ability of this fungus to cause disease.”
The Forest Service said in a news release that the study is based on a foundation of collaborative research among the U.S. Forest Service, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and is a continuation of pioneering research initiated by Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta and European researchers, including those at the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures in The Netherlands.
P. destructans Reaches New States
State wildlife officials are reporting that the WNS fungus (P. destructans) has been confirmed in bats in northern Arkansas and in both the northeastern and southeastern corners of Minnesota. No WNS-related bat fatalities were found in either state. These are the third and fourth states where the fungus, but not the disease, has been reported. The others are Oklahoma and Iowa. They are in addition to the 22 states and 5 Canadian provinces where WNS is killing bats.
A birthday gift for bats
BCI Outreach Associate Dianne Odegard recently received a very unusual email from Austin, Texas, resident Tina Jackson. She said her son Simon’s 10th birthday was coming up and he had decided that rather than receiving gifts, he would ask his birthday-party guests to bring donations for a local organization: Bat Conservation International.
How does a child make such a selfless gesture? Tina said Simon and his three siblings, all home-schooled, have been working on such grown-up concepts as the difference between “needs” and “wants.” Simon took this to heart and embraced his mom’s suggestion of donations. She made a list of choices and says Simon immediately chose BCI. He loves all animals, and bats are a special favorite.
Tina had asked if BCI?could provide bat brochures for the party. Though BCI’s small staff and funding needs place strict limits on in-person presentations, Dianne decided that Simon’s generosity deserved an exception – especially since the party was on a holiday and BCI was closed.
So, armed with information and quizzes for the kids, plus a live Mexican free-tailed bat (one of several non-releasable bats Dianne cares for as a certified bat rehabilitator), she set out for the birthday picnic at Austin’s Dick Nichols Park.
The party included children and adults. Dianne reports that the 30 or so children were enchanted by the live bat and proved unusually knowledgeable, answering her quiz questions correctly time after time: No, all bats do not have rabies, and bats don’t want to hang out in your hair. One youngster guessed there were four species of vampire bats, coming closest to the correct answer (three) that Dianne had heard from kids or adults in years. That question about vampires, of course, brought giggles from the group.
As the afternoon ended, Dianne left the picnic with $135 in birthday gifts for BCI – and bats got the gift of an impressive young friend.
Apply for a BCI Scholarship
Bat Conservation International’s Student Research Scholarship program has been supporting innovative bat-research projects by promising young scientists around the world since 1990. We have awarded 353 scholarships for research in 62 countries.
Applications are now being accepted for 2014 Scholarships.
Students enrolled in degree-granting programs at colleges and universities worldwide are eligible to apply for scholarships of up to $5,000 each to support conservation-relevant bat research during the 2014-15 academic year.
Applications must be completed online at BCI’s website (www.batcon.org/scholarships).
The deadline for submission is December 15, 2013.
Qualified research should address at least one of these issues: answering ecological or behavioral questions that are essential to conservation; resolving an economic problem that will improve support for conservation; or documenting key ecological or economic roles of bats.
Scholarships are competitive. Applications are judged by a panel of scientists, and awards will be announced in the spring.
U.S. Forest Service International Programs has been an invaluable partner since 2005, providing funding for approximately 10 scholarships per year to support bat research in developing countries.
BCI awarded 19 scholarships for the current academic year for studies in the United States and 11 other countries. Here’s a sampling:
• Jessie Bunkley, Boise State University (United States): Predator-prey interactions in a louder world: Does noise alter bat assemblages and their arthropod prey?
• Bol a Anong Alima Gibering, University of Maroua (Cameroon): Investigation of the diet of three insectivorous bats in northern Cameroon
• Yara Azofeifa, Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (Venezuela): Consumption of pest insects and intake of pesticides by insectivorous bats
• Joseph Hoyt, University of California-Santa Cruz (United States): The role of beneficial bacteria in protecting bats from White-nose Syndrome
• Adria Lopez Baucells, Universidade de Lisboa (Brazil): Quantifying edge effects on aerial insectivorous bats in the Central Amazon
• Liz Huamani, Universidad Nacional de Piura (Peru): Economic value of insectivorous bats as primary predators of agricultural pests in organic and conventional banana crops
The passing of friends: Lois Blumenthal • 1946 – 2013
I’m not a scientist, just an ordinary person,” Lois Blumenthal liked to say. But the woman who virtually created bat conservation in the Cayman Islands of the Caribbean was anything but ordinary. Lois Blumenthal, born in Chicago and raised in Hagerstown, Maryland, died April 22, 2013, at her longtime home in Grand Cayman. She was 66.
She is survived by her husband, James; her children, Janice and David; and her mother, Sarah Dwyer.
In 1994, appalled that animals the islanders called “rat-bats” were routinely exterminated, she founded the National Trust’s Bat Conservation Program for the Cayman Islands. Committed to the ideal of “cooperative success,” Lois convinced pest-control firms to shift from extermination to humane exclusion of bats. She made a partner of the Caribbean Utilities Co. Ltd., which donated and installed utility poles to hold bat houses that were strategically placed around the islands. Many of those artificial roosts were built by prison inmates.
She created, with a little help from BCI, bat-education materials that are used in the local schools. She was a frequent speaker in classrooms and at many other gatherings, and wrote countless brochures and articles. And things changed. Today, most islanders know and appreciate the value of their bats, and the program she built is considered a model for the region.
“If you look at anything that has been accomplished in life,” she once told a reporter, “there has always been one person behind it. One person can make a difference.”?Lois Blumenthal certainly did.
More new species
Increasing use of DNA analyses and new discoveries in little-studied parts of the world are combining for another sharp increase in the “official” number of worldwide bat species. Nancy Simmons, the American Museum of Natural History’s Mammalogy Curator-in-Charge, reported a new total of at least 1,293 living bat species during the 2013 International Bat Research Conference (IBRC) in Costa Rica. That’s more than 20 percent of all mammal species.
She also noted that about a dozen other potentially new species are in the process of being confirmed and named. Another 247 bat species are listed as extinct.
Simmons had raised the total to 1,232 at the 2010 IBRC in Czech Republic, and in 2003 she boosted the number of bat species to 1,105 – from the 925 cited since 1993.
She says the main factor behind the increases is that more researchers are using new technologies, “which are playing a powerful role in showing a lot of hidden diversity in what were once thought to be wide-ranging species.
“But some genuinely new bats – never before seen – are captured and identified every year,” Simmons said. “These discoveries are often made in parts of the world where there has been little previous work or where past surveys only began to scratch the surface. Still other new species are discovered in museum drawers where close examinations and comparisons show that specimens collected years ago are not what they were originally thought to be.
“All of these kinds of discovery are part of the picture that is showing bats to be more diverse than we thought.”