result: a severe, accelerated loss of bats in the United States, with
populations in some caves falling 90 to 100 percent.
could have significant consequences for both the United States
economy and its food supply, according to David
a U.S. Geological Survey white-nose syndrome researcher based in
are major predators of insects, and it has been estimated that they
provide pest control services to U.S. farmers valued at greater than
$3.7 billion per year,” Blehert said. “Globally, bats are also
important seed dispersers and pollinators.”
syndrome is caused by the fungus P. destructans (Pd) and is named for
the distinctive white fungus that tends to collect along infected
bats’ muzzles. It has killed more than 6 million hibernating bats
in North America since the winter of 2006–07, when it was first
detected on a bat in a cave near Albany, New York.
syndrome has spread to 29 states—up four states since fall 2015—as
well as five Canadian provinces. This year scientists have detected
Pd in 32 states and five Canadian provinces and in more caves than
syndrome leapfrogged to the West Coast when it was detected in a dead
bat found in Washington state in March.
is the disease spreading so far, so fast? Turns out, people might be
partly to blame.
fungus thrives in cold, damp caves, where it readily disperses
spores. The spores can survive for years in soil, water, and bat
guano. “If a human enters [a cave] contaminated withPd,
that individual may accumulate infectious spores on their clothing,
gear, or shoes, which creates risk for transferring the fungal
pathogen to new locations,” said Blehert.
a bat, white-nose syndrome colonizes skin tissues, causing severe
skin lesions and an accumulation of snow-like white fungal fluff on
the muzzle—the disease’s namesake symptom. The disease also
causes bats to engage in erratic behaviors that disrupt hibernation,
resulting in dehydration, starvation, and death.Bats contract
white-nose syndrome from either their environment or direct contact
with other bats. That bats naturally cluster together when
hibernating helps facilitate the spread of disease during the winter
months they spend hanging from the ceilings of caves.
lot of us have reduced the amount of cave trips and gear we bring
into caves because we have to consider the time and damage to our
gear caused by decontamination,” says Foote. “It has made it more
stressful than relaxing to go out and enjoy nature.”
an effort to quell the spread of disease, the Fish and Wildlife
Service, with the support of the U.S. Geological Survey and state
wildlife agencies, restricts access to caves where white-nose
syndrome has been detected.
the past seven years, scientists have made significant strides in
understanding the pathology of white-nose syndrome and why North
American hibernating bats are most vulnerable to disease.
research on the white-nose syndrome fungus and affected bats has
played a big role in that understanding: On Wednesday, experts at the
U.S. Geological Surveyannounced the
strain of the disease found in the sick Washington state bat was
genetically similar to strains found in the Eastern United States.
Scientists say this could be evidence that humans spread the disease
west across the continent, rather than it being brought to the U.S.
from Asia, another possibility they had considered.
they haven’t been able to stop the syndrome, and the long-term
effects of a massive bat die-off are not well understood. What is
certain: We can’t live without these winged creatures.