The plague just keeps spreading. So far this year, White-nose Syndrome has expanded its devastation into four new states and Canada's Maritime Provinces. The latest victims are Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina in the United States and New Brunswick in Canada. The Geomyces destructans fungus tied to the disease was confirmed this past month in the province of Nova Scotia.
WNS, which has killed well over a million bats in North America since 2006, is now confirmed in 16 states and 3 provinces. Two other states and one province have confirmed presence of the fungus that is the probable cause White-nose Syndrome.
"This latest news isn't completely unexpected, but it is devastating nonetheless," said Nina Fascione, Executive Director of Bat Conservation International. "And more sad reports are possible as biologists examine additional hibernation caves for signs of White-nose Syndrome."
Bat Conservation International and its partners, along with other biologists and conservationists around North America, are working desperately to better understand this malady and find ways to stop its brutal spread.
BCI is assisting The Nature Conservancy's Tennessee Chapter in exploring an especially innovative concept – an artificial cave that, its proponents hope, could provide a WNS-free sanctuary for hibernating bats and a test bed for potential treatments.
Fungicides that can kill the WNS fungus have been tested and are available, but using them in natural caves would be extremely difficult given the complexity of caves. Also, such treatments are generally unacceptable because the chemicals would destroy the diverse animals and other organisms that fill cave ecosystems. An artificial cave, built underground near existing bat colonies, would have no natural ecosystem and could be safely treated to destroy spores of the fungus when no bats are present.
An initial design for a test cave that could house tens of thousands of bats has been developed and is being reviewed, with the goal of having this initial cave available for hibernating bats this winter.
BCI recently awarded approximately $40,000 from its White-nose Syndrome Fund to support critical research. These latest studies include efforts to improve and speed detection of the WNS-associated fungus; examine factors that affect the susceptibility of varied bat species to WNS and its impact; and explore the effects of WNS-caused wing damage on bats' foraging, reproduction and other activities.
Executive Director Nina Fascione, meanwhile, has testified before a key congressional committee about the urgent need for WNS funding. She also presented information to key congressional offices and joined with other conservation groups to support critical legislation.
White-nose Syndrome is still the gravest threat ever faced by North American bats and answers are elusive. But some of the world's most dedicated scientists and conservationists are working relentlessly to solve this tragic mystery.
Help BCI and its partners continue the struggle to solve White-nose Syndrome and other urgent bat-conservation issues. Your support can make a difference: www.batcon.org/donate