Bats Battle Fungus Where They SleepNovember 13, 2014
Imagine a world without bats — a world overrun with biting insects, a world where plants that rely upon bat pollinators might disappear. Debbie Buecher, a Tucson bat biologist, is trying to prevent...
White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in North America. The disease is caused by a fungus from Eurasia, which was accidentally transported here by humans. The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, invades the skin of hibernating bats and disrupts both their hydration and hibernation cycles.
Hibernating bats awake repeatedly during the winter, burning up limited fat reserves. They often leave hibernation sites in late winter, dehydrated and in search of food, and ultimately dying.
The fungus is transmitted primarily from bat to bat. Today, WNS is found in 26 US states and 5 Canadian provinces. The fungus that causes WNS is found in three more US states.
WNS is known to affect hibernating bats, and 7 species of bats have been diagnosed with the disease. Five additional species (†) have been found with the fungus, but have not yet developed the disease.
Map of Current WNS Status
WNS has killed at least 5.7 million bats since it arrived in North American in 2006. Some winter colonies have seen 100% fatality. The impact of this disease is unprecedented. Since bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects, we can expect to see significant ecosystem changes in the coming years. The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) was once the most common bat in North America; today, it is being considered for protection under the US Endangered Species Act.
Bat Conservation International has helped lead the fight against this devastating disease. We feel that the best way to prevent the disease is to manage the fungus that causes it. Our WNS Research Grants have provided $373,149.00 in critical research dollars to help address questions and find solutions. We examine existing research efforts and identify gaps where our funding can make a difference. In addition to our research grants, BCI supports efforts to monitor the spread of WNS and understand its distribution. We participate in projects that use new technologies to monitor important hibernacula. We provide targeted information to managers and decision-makers to assist in WNS preparedness, and establishing concepts for delivering information to our partners, the public and media. Only through active collaboration with scientists, managers, lawmakers and the public will we have a chance to maintain sustainable bat populations in the wake of White-nose Syndrome.
Bat Conservation International scientists help state wildlife agencies on the leading edge of the WNS front conduct surveillance for its arrival. We just completed a 3rd year of monitoring caves in north Texas, where the disease is most likely to enter the state. Our search for the source of Pseudogymnoascus destructans in Eurasia continues. This winter, over 200 samples from 30 European countries were collected and are currently being analyzed. Initial investigations to identify a biological control agent for the fungus are showing great promise. More studies – and research funding – is needed in order to test the efficacy and impact of these agents in the field.