Scientists invited to the “White-nose Syndrome Science Strategy Meeting” in June will examine the latest evidence and try to identify the most urgent research needs for dealing with what may be the worst threat ever faced by bats. This mysterious malady has spread to five northeastern states in just two winters, killing hundreds of thousands of hibernating bats – and the cause remains unknown.
With mortality rates of up to 95 percent reported in some hibernation caves, entire bat species are at risk. If unsolved, this could become an ecological disaster, since bats consume enormous quantities of night-flying insects, including many of the nation’s most costly crop pests.
The emergency meeting was organized by Bat Conservation International, Boston University, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. BCI is the leading funder of the session, including travel expenses for participants, with generous support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund and National Speleological Society.
A wide range of scientists and agencies are working to discover the cause – or causes – of these die-offs. Twenty-five leading scientists, including specialists in wildlife pathology, infectious diseases, toxicology, climatology and bat ecology, behavior and physiology, are invited to the session June 9-11 in Albany, New York. Representatives from a number of federal and state agencies will participate in discussions of current research and hypotheses and will independently develop management priorities.
With so much at stake, organizers hope the results will reduce duplication of effort and suggest the most efficient approaches for solving this critical puzzle before the damage becomes irreparable.
A disease-causing pathogen, pesticides or other toxins top the list of possible causes. One or a cascade of factors may be involved.
The malady is called “White-nose Syndrome” because many affected bats are found with a dusting of white fungus on their faces. The fungus’ role in the die-offs, however, is unclear. Dead or dying bats typically are emaciated (with little or none of the stored fat that bats must have to survive months of winter hibernation) and often dehydrated. Large numbers of these bats are reported emerging from hibernation caves much earlier than normal, and dead bats are sometimes found on the ground near cave entrances.
Die-offs have been documented at caves and mines in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and three possible WNS sites recently were reported in Pennsylvania. One affected species, the Indiana myotis, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. Little brown myotis are hardest hit, while northern myotis, eastern small-footed myotis and eastern pipistrelles are also confirmed as WNS victims.