Bats in North America Dying By the Thousands

Over one million bats in six species in eastern North America have died from white-nose syndrome (WNS) since 2006. As a result several species of bats may become endangered or extinct. White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fatal disease of bats that hibernate. And it’s moving west.  (In the featured picture note the fungal spots of WNC on the hibernating Myotis bat’s nose, as well as on its wing and tail membranes.  Photo by Alan Hicks, NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation – used by permission.)

A team of wildlife experts led by University of California: Davis1 called today for a national fight against this new fungus that has killed thousands of these bats in the eastern United States and Canada, and is spreading fast throughout North America. 

“If we lose bats, we lose keystone species in some communities, predators that consume enormous numbers of insects, and beautiful wildlife species that are important parts of North America’s biodiversity,” said Janet Foley, a UC Davis professor of veterinary medicine at the Center for Vectorborne Diseases. 

Foley and her co-authors2 recently sounded a call to action online in the Early View section of the journal Conservation Biology. 

“Bats are essential members of natural ecosystems, hunting insects, pollinating plants and scattering seeds,” Foley said. “Bats do the jobs at night that birds do during the day. But because they are most active in darkness, few people are aware of how many bats live around us and how valuable they are.” 

Scientists think the white-nose syndrome fungus, which normally lives in soil, somehow traveled to cave walls where bats hibernate in winter and began infecting the animals’ facial skin and wing membranes.  

Sick bats appear to be coated with frost. They fly more than normal, which uses up fat reserves, and also lose water at a faster rate than normal. Disoriented, they move to exposed places, such as cave entrances.

 There are 23 species of bats in California that hibernate in caves, and so are vulnerable to white-nose syndrome. 

Foley said the fungus does not appear to be a threat to people or animals other than bats. 

“In the three years since its discovery, white-nose syndrome has changed the focus of bat conservation in North America,” said Foley.

“A national response is required, and our epidemiological roadmap is designed to help emerging state and national plans to combat white-nose syndrome across the United States.”

Foley and her collaborators developed their recommendations3 at a workshop in Colorado in August funded by the National Park Service.

Canadian Note:

Muriel Draaisma, CBC News wrote that researchers in Canada and the U.S. say they think putting heated bat boxes in cold caves during the winter may help lower the number of bats dying from a fungus. 

The researchers do not want to test it on affected populations if it means the populations spread the syndrome during summer months.  They are apparently looking to the healthy population of bats in Manitoba, Canada to effect some of the tests.  According to information at the Cavechat.org site, the study will be funded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The researchers are trying to keep bat populations alive until scientists can find a cure for the syndrome.

They said one way to help the bats with the syndrome, save their energy and survive the winter is to give them a heat source.  This way they will use less body heat when they rouse because bats will fly to the warmest parts of a cave during arousal.

 

FOOTNOTES:

 

About UC Davis

 

 

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world.

Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has more than 32,000 students, more than 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget that exceeds $678 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers.

 

The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

 

2 Foley’s co-authors are:

 

   Deana Clifford, a research associate at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center and associate wildlife veterinarian at the California Department of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Investigations Lab in Sacramento;

   Kevin Castle, a wildlife veterinarian at the National Park Service’s Biological Resource Management Division in Fort Collins, Colo.;

   Paul Cryan, a research biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins; and

   Richard Ostfeld, a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.

 

3 The authors’ recommendations include:

 

 

   an outbreak investigation network that would establish a standard diagnosis and case definitions;

   bat population monitoring; and

   improved public awareness of the problem.

 

“Scientists, policymakers and members of the public will all have a voice in the coming debate over the best course of action,” Foley said. They also call for further studies of chemical and biological agents known to kill the fungus but not yet proven safe for bats, as well as study of treatments for similar diseases.

 

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About Sandra Bell Kirchman

My passion is for fiction, especially fantasy fiction. I have been writing nearly all my life, since the age of 7 when I produced a 5-page novel called "Angus the Ant" - self-illustrated. Since then, I have written and published a fantasy novel called "Witchcanery," which has won several awards and has met with some acclaim from readers around the world. I've also edited and published an anthology for the writers at my site FantasyFic.com, called "Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories." Both books are available on Kindle; the latter is also available on Nook. Both books are sold as hard copies at most major online outlets. One of my later ventures was horror stories; surprisingly, since horror stories scare me, I find I have a special affinity for them, especially in flash fiction format (under 1000 or less words). Currently, I am working on two WIPs, one a sequel to "Witchcanery," which several readers have made me promise to write; the other an apocalyptic novel called "The Road to the End of the World." There are several examples of this latter novel in my blog "Fantasyfic," formerly known as "Wizards and Ogres and Elves - Oh My!" Fantasyfic is on hold temporarily, while I work almost exclusively on Puppy Dog Tales. My other blogs keep me hopping. One is a roundup of news and some fun pieces from around the world. It is listed under the name of "News, Views, and Gurus." The current blog is my pet favorite, if you'll pardon the expression. I'm an avid pet parent and animal lover. My three little Shih-Tzus are the joys of my life...and so is my husband, but I don't write about him. Anyhow, my blog "Puppy Dog Tales" is a work of love, featuring my doggies and other pets around the world. I'm a devoted advocate of animal rights and especially backing the cause of animal rescue shelters. My wonderful husband and I live in a very small town in southeastern Saskatchewan on the south side in a rustic, cedar-sided home. Our property is almost a whole acre, and is gracious and pretty (which is not easy to be in one package). All five of us are happy here.

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