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2012 edition. These accounts have been selected to provide the best available overall portrait of an evolving situation. Please note that some information may be dated and that media accounts rarely provide full, or always accurate, technical information.
Scientists Rush to Save Bats from Extinction
Click to watch NBC Today Show video, December 28
In a government lab where scientists slice open dead animals to study the exotic diseases that killed them, Carol Meteyer peered through a microscope at hundreds of little bats and started to notice something very weird.
The bats had managed to survive the white-nose fungus that had killed millions of other bats hibernating in caves, mostly in the Northeast. But they had succumbed to something else that had left their tiny corpses in tatters, their wings scorched and pocked with holes.
Meteyer finally realized what had happened: In the struggle to fight off the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, the bats were killed by their own hyperaggressive immune systems.
Meteyer, a scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey, had stumbled upon a phenomenon never before seen in mammals in the wild. A similar finding had been observed only once before — in people with AIDS.
Now scientists hope studying the immunology of bats might help in the development of treatments for AIDS.
The devastating immune-system attack, called IRIS for immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome, plays out differently in humans and bats, according to an article by Meteyer and two colleagues that recently appeared in the journal Virulence.
When bats hibernate in winter, their heart rates slow and their immune systems all but shut down, making them vulnerable to the cave-dwelling fungus Geomyces destructans that causes white-nose and eats away skin, connective tissue and muscle.
When bats wake up in late March, their immune systems react like startled homeowners who realize prowlers are inside the house. They launch a wild search-and-destroy mission that annihilates the disease, but also healthy cells and tissue.
“It’s not natural. It’s cellular suicide. It comes out in a huge wave, going out to those areas of infection and kills everything,” said Meteyer, who was a veterinary pathologist for the USGS in Madison, Wis., at the time of her discovery but now is the deputy coordinator for contaminant biology for the agency in Reston.
For AIDS patients, the immune-system syndrome plays out differently. After antiretroviral treatment improves patients’ health, their restored immune systems can launch an exaggerated attack against any previously acquired opportunistic infection the treatment didn’t catch, causing extensive damage.
Scientists now hope to study the immunology of bats to try to uncover findings that can assist the development of treatments for AIDS.
Meteyer said she envisions a day when “we can look closely at the mechanism driving this intense response in bats and potentially get insight into this phenomenon in humans.”
Her co-author, Judith Mandl, a research fellow for the National Institutes of Health involved in AIDS research, was also intrigued by the similarities between bat and human reactions. “When you release immune suppression, you get a response that’s a lot more damaging than helpful,” she said. The third co-author is Daniel Barber, who also works at NIH.
Eleftherios Mylonakis, Virulence’s editor-in-chief, said he included the research in the Nov. 15 edition because it represents the “out of the box” thinking the journal seeks to capture. “We want to support scientists thinking in novel ways,” he said. “Very often what we see in our patients is already seen in some form or another in nature and we want to understand these connections in order to facilitate new discoveries.”
The remote possibility that an AIDS treatment can arise from the study of white-nose is about the only positive development since the bat disease was first discovered in a cave near Albany, N.Y., in 2008. Read full article...
Effort to keep deadly bat fungus out of Black Hills ratchets up
Ryan Lengerich, November 18, 2012
Federal officials are scrambling to protect bats in the Black Hills from white-nose syndrome, a catastrophic fungus that has set off a bat apocalypse from New York to Missouri, wiping out more than 6 million of the flying mammals — 90 percent or more of some bat species — over the past six years.
The syndrome's virulence forced the Forest Service to take some drastic steps despite a lack of proof that humans can carry and transfer the fungus to bats. In July 2010, the U.S. Forest Service issued an emergency order to close all caves and abandoned mines for a year in South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas.
The Forest Service extended the ban in 2011, then for another year in August. The closure did not include Wind Cave and Jewell Cave, which fall in the National Park Service jurisdiction.
"Talking to folks back east, there was some thought, 'I wish we would have done something sooner,'" said Kerry Burns, a local wildlife biologist with the Black Hills National Forest. "Our region didn't want to be saying that themselves."
"I think what they have tried to do is adopt a conservative approach because they don’t want to get this wrong," said Joel Tigner of Rapid City, owner of Batworks, a biological consulting business that deals exclusively with bats and bat habitat. "I wouldn't want to be the one making the decisions at this point. It is important enough that you don't want to make mistakes."
But the move rattled recreational cavers who had been accustomed to exploring the numerous named and unnamed caves scattered throughout the Black Hills.
Now, the Forest Service wants to make a final decision on the status of the caves and is drawing up a regional environmental assessment plan it hopes can re-open the caves to exploration but spare the bats a slow communal death.
The environmental plan would create rules for a five-state region in an effort to block the spread of white-nose syndrome into the more than 200 caves and abandoned mines in the area. The Forest Service is taking public comment until Dec. 14 and hopes to finalize the program by July.
"We don't know how much interaction there is of bats in the Black Hills and bats in the east," Burns said. "It may get here, regardless."
Cavers are bats' best ally
The ban hit experienced cavers such as members of the Black Hills caving club Paha Sapa Grotto. In August, after two years of outright bans, the government granted special exemptions for National Speleological Society members conducting conservation-related activities, which includes Paha Sapa Grotto.
Dan Austin, Paha Sapa Grotto chairman, said the fungus spread so fast he understands why Forest Service officials reacted swiftly. However, with little hard science to prove humans are spreading the fungus, the closures were heavy-handed, he said.
"We never agreed with blanket cave closures," Austin said by email. "We have always felt from the start of the emergency order in Region 2 that a targeted approach to closing specific, sensitive caves with bats would be the most valuable."
Burns, the local wildlife biologist, said local cavers may be the key to preventing or recognizing the white-nosed syndrome as it moves west. Austin said his group is happy to join the fight.
"They know that we’re the experts," Austin said, "and that we can help them with cave management and further white-nose syndrome studies, whether it be monitoring certain caves or inventories." Read full article...
A Northern Michigan Bat Doctor Fights for the Hibernacula's Future
Northern Michigan's bats are still holding out against a disease that's been devastating their Eastern brethren. Meet the researcher out to save them.
Suzanne Van Dam, Oct 2, 2012
Northern Michigan: The Great Lakes have buffered Michigan’s bats against a disastrous disease that’s decimated populations up and down the East Coast. Writer Suzanne Van Dam ventures underground with Dr. Allen Kurta and his bat squad to learn what the future holds for our mysterious and misunderstood friends of the night.
Shivering, I ease myself onto a rock deep inside an abandoned iron mine in Vulcan, Michigan. The mine is a damp 45 degrees, as it has been all day, indeed all year, here underground. Water droplets seep through fissures in the earth, breaking the silence as they plop onto a puddle. My headlamp creates a halo of light that reveals a little brown bat above me. He’s tucked himself into a nook of the ceiling where a man’s chisel once searched for metal. Dangling there precariously from what looks like an impossibly slim toehold, his soft, furry body looks vulnerable against the backdrop—jagged stones below him and nothing but dark passages ahead.
I’m tagging along with the Michigan “bat squad,” which consists of a university biologist, a DNR officer, and a local caver who knows these subterranean tunnels nearly as well as the bats who make this mine their winter home. As the men’s footsteps approach and their voices grow louder, the bat’s tiny body starts to quiver, like the swaying of a chrysalis before it cracks open. He peels one eyelid back and peeks at me, his body too sluggish from winter torpor to fly away. I give him a silent nod and move on to join my group.
After finishing the tour of the iron mine in Vulcan, we drive the back roads of Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula searching for copper mines and more hibernacula, as the hideouts where bats spend winter are called. As we enter the mines and trudge along these subterranean passages, my light flickers first on one bat, and then another, until I’ve passed dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands of bats over the course of the day. Sometimes they perch alone, sometimes they nestle against a neighbor for warmth and companionship, their bodies hanging from the ceiling like little upside-down question marks.
And there are a lot of question marks. Their survival as a species, for starters. A devastating disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has swept across much of North America, killing an estimated 6.7 million bats since it first appeared in a tourist cave in New York in 2006. Scientists are calling the illness the most significant wildlife calamity ever in North America, worse than the extinction of passenger pigeons or the decline in American bison, as the disease wreaks havoc not just on one species, but on an entire ecological niche: predators of night-flying insects. In less than six years, the disease has spread as far north as Quebec and as far south as Alabama, but it hasn’t reached Michigan—yet.
Or has it? That is what Dr. Allen Kurta, a wildlife biologist from Eastern Michigan University, is trying to find out.
To the Bat Cave! Scientists Hope Bunker Can Halt Deadly Fungus
White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats. Now an artificial cave built for their hibernation may save them.
—By Suzanne Goldenberg, Septemeber 18, 2012
One October evening, as an autumn chill descends with the darkening sky, a great cloud of bats will rise out of the woods at a pre-arranged signal and dive with their thousands of beating wings down a concrete shaft and into a secure underground bunker, AKA the bat cave.
At least, that is what is called for in the script. The structure is an artificial bat cave, believed to be the first of its kind. Conservation groups are looking to the bunker to provide protection against an aggressive new disease that threatens to annihilate North America's bat population.
Work on the bat cave, built just over a metre below ground on a hill about 70 miles north-west of Nashville, began in late August, and should wind up this month. For those approaching the structure through the steel doors designated for humans, it feels a bit like entering a tomb. But for North American bats it could provide a shot at survival.
As many as 6.7 million North American bats are believed to have been killed by the disease known as white-nose syndrome since its presence was first detected in a New York cave in 2006. The disease has struck in 19 states and four Canadian provinces, wiping out 90 percent of the population in some caves in the north-east. White-nose arrived in Tennessee last March in two caves used by grey bats, which are classed as an endangered species.
"We were concerned we could lose a couple of species in a year or two," said Cory Holliday, the cave expert for the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee, the organisation building the bat cave.
The bats' drastic decline has broad implications: the animals eat their weight in mosquitoes and other insects each day. By some estimates, they save American agriculture $3.7bn (£2.3bn) a year.
The disease attacks bats during the hibernation season, depositing white fluff on their muzzles and rousing them from their torpor, causing them to burn through fat stores.
Researchers say it is caused by a soil fungus, introduced to North America by European hikers. There is, to date, no known treatment.
However, some conservationists figured that if they could construct a bat cave free of the fungus that causes the disease, and then decontaminate the area each year, it would be possible to protect bat populations.
"I call it our crazy idea but what if we could just get them out of the cave?" said Mark Thurman, a wildlife biologist with Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Agency who is credited with coming up with the original plan. "We had the concept for a while but we were very, very quiet because it was a pretty wacky idea," he admitted. Read more...---
Scientists stake out bat colonies to track a killer: White nose syndrome
By RENEE SCHOOF, McClatchy Newspapers
RICHMOND, Va. -- As green cricket frogs screeched and the sun set, researcher Kate Langwig and a small band of fellow scientists set a trap of black nets to nab bats and inspect them as part of a scientific quest to understand a spreading disease that's killed these small mammals by the millions.
Moments after two hours of work hoisting tall poles and positioning the nets was finished, the first bat - a tiny juvenile - was caught. Langwig, wearing white latex gloves, gently untwisted the net and popped the baby bat into a brown paper lunch bag. More bats emerged from four bat boxes near a pond in Pocahontas State Park, west of Richmond. In less than an hour, 38 bagged bats were ready for inspection.
The fungus grows on bats in cold weather. They wake too early from hibernation, use up their fat reserves and die. Langwig - a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz - and other researchers are trying to get a deeper understanding of how the disease called white-nose syndrome spreads and what might halt it before some species of insect-devouring bats, the only mammals that fly, go extinct.
"We're interested in how intense the infections are - how much they have and how much causes mortality," she said.
Her co-workers on a recent night of field work - Chris Hobson, a Virginia state zoologist, and his colleagues - were banding bats to learn where they travel between their hibernation places and their summer colonies. Because bats live a long time - little brown bats can have a lifespan of 35 years or more - the bands can provide useful data about bats that survive.
Langwig is the lead author of a new paper that reports some good news about little brown bats, a common species in the Northeast: Their populations are starting to stabilize after a steep decline.
One surprise was that these bats, now living in smaller colonies, have started to roost apart from other bats, instead of in large, dense clusters as they used to do.
"Our analysis suggests that the little brown bats are probably not going to go extinct because they are changing their social behavior in a way that will result in them persisting at smaller populations," A. Marm Kilpatrick, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz and a co-author of the study, said in a news release. The report was published last week in the journal Ecology Letters.
Another species hit by the fungus, Indiana bats, continues to hibernate in dense clusters and may decline to extinction, Langwig said.
But solitary roosting doesn't always appear to be the answer, either. Another species, the northern long-eared bat, is known for roosting individually. While its populations declined less rapidly than those of some other species did, 14 populations of northern long-eared bats became locally extinct within two years after white-nose syndrome was detected, and no populations remained in a study area after five years.
Langwig said northern long-eared bats appeared to be particularly susceptible to the disease: They were hit hard even after the transmission rate was reduced.
Little brown bats also have been among the hardest hit. Virginia state scientists have found caves where their numbers are down by 90 percent. The disease has spread to seven bat species in 19 states and four Canadian provinces.
Government and academic scientists are working together in a major effort to understand the fungus.
On the night of field work near Richmond, the team worked at a brisk, steady pace, with no breaks. After they took down the nets, they sat around plastic containers that served as tables. Langwig took a bagged bat, weighed it, took it out of the bag and swabbed it, checking for the fungus and other microbes.
Hobson stretched out each bat's translucent wings - about 10 inches fully extended - over a light table. An assistant took photos and recorded data. Another biologist popped a tiny aluminum-alloy band onto each bat's wing. Hobson used a UV flashlight to check for the fungus, which would glow bright orange but didn't show up on any bats here.
By midnight, the 38 paper bags were empty. Their former inhabitants all turned out to be little brown bats from a maternity colony of females and the young that some of them had given birth to five or six weeks earlier.
The finger-sized bats struggled, chattered and bared their tiny teeth as the biologists gently clasped them. Once the inspection routine was over, each bat fell silent the moment Hobson held it up and let it flutter off to hunt insects by the hundreds before the night would end.
Caving challenges in the era of white-nose
By Rick Steelhammer
National Speleological Society conventioneers (from left) Avra Cohen of New York City, Tim Burlingame of Jersey City, N.J., and Jeff Call of Saltville, Va., power-wash their caving gear to guard against the spread of white-nose syndrome after visiting a pair of Greenbrier County caves.
LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- Nothing has affected recreational caving like the spread of white-nose syndrome, the disease that has killed millions of hibernating bats in 19 states and four Canadian provinces since it was first detected -- by a caver -- in Schoharie Caverns, N.Y., in 2006.
In an effort to slow the spread of the fungus-borne disease, state and federal officials initially closed all caves on public lands. Caves owned by conservancies and caving organizations in states where WNS had been found followed suit.
"A number of caving events were called off, and the communities that hosted them suffered financially," said Peter Youngbaer, WNS liaison for the National Speleological Society. The closures also took their toll on campgrounds and cafes in caving areas, he said.
Since then, as decontamination protocols were established for cavers and their gear, and as scientists learned more about the nature of the disease, a number of caves once closed have reopened, or are barring access only during winter hibernation months.
"It's now a patchwork of closures that can make it a challenge for cavers to know where to go," said Youngbaer. But National Speleological Society members are committed to continue working with state and federal scientists to learn more about WNS and limit its effect on cave dwelling bats, while promoting public awareness about the disease and cave conservation, Youngbaer said.
More than 1,100 cavers from across the world have gathered this week in Lewisburg to take part in the National Speleological Society's 2012 convention, nicknamed MayaCon 2012, in humorous homage to the Mayan calendar's supposed end-of-the-world forecast for the year in progress.
"Back in 2004, when we started planning for this convention, there was no white-nose syndrome," said John Pearson of Renick, co-chairman of MayaCon 2012. But for the past several NSS national conventions, the disease has been a major topic of discussion, he said.
At this year's convention, those making presentations on WNS included Jeremy Coleman, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's WNS program, and Craig Stihler of the West Virginia DNR, who coordinates the state's effort to combat the disease.
Coleman said one research topic now occupying scientists is trying to determine why European bat populations infected with the fungus associated with WNS aren't prone to the same massive die-offs as their American cousins. While bat mortality has approached 100 percent at some Eastern U.S. hibernation caves where WNS is present, and the national death toll from the disease has been estimated as high as 6.7 million bats, the disease has claimed very few European bats.
Many bats that fall victim to WNS die from exposure, after they are awakened from hibernation and leave the shelter of their caves in mid-winter, apparently in search of food.
"We need to know exactly what it is that drives them out of their caves," Coleman said. "We also need to understand why some bat species don't seem to be affected while others are being decimated."
Stihler said the Virginia big-eared bat, a federally listed endangered species, hibernates in relatively large numbers in West Virginia caves where WNS has been detected, but shows no sign of being affected by the disease.
"In fact, we now have the highest number of Virginia big-eared bats on record hibernating here," he said. "Since WNS showed up in the state, it's the only species that doesn't seem to be affected by it."
"We've come a long way in the past four or five years," Coleman said, "and the caving community has a lot to do with it."
Journey Of Little Brown Bats Tracked By Chemical ‘Fingerprinting’
RedOrbit, May 31, 2012
Little brown bats are tiny creatures that fly through the night hunting insects that humans consider pests, zooming past trees in a wave of sleek brown fur. The 3.4 inch long bats, when not hunting insects in warmer months, hibernate in abandoned mines and caves during the winter.
As peaceful as this image seems, a disease known as white-nose syndrome jeopardizes the little brown bat’s very survival. A groundbreaking method of tracking the little brown bat by using stable hydrogen isotopes, a chemical “fingerprint” found in organic matter like hair, could help researchers understand the disease better.
Using this method, researchers from Michigan Technological University were able to conclude where the bats choose to spend their summers. This process could aid in tracking white-nose syndrome and help researchers manage the advancement of this deadly disease.
“This novel application of stable hydrogen isotopes can help predict which hibernation sites are likely to exchange bats,” Bump states. “Bat-to-bat contact is believed to be the way white-nose syndrome is spread, so understanding the bats’ movements can help us know which hibernation sites are connected and how disease could potentially be transmitted among locations.”
Joseph Bump, an assistant professor at Michigan Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, and a former undergraduate student in his lab, Alexis Sullivan, published their report in July’s issue of the journal Ecological Applications. They studied three colonies of bats that hibernated in three different mines located in the upper western peninsula of Michigan.
Sullivan, Bump, and associates Laura Kruger and Rolf Peterson focused on little brown bats that hibernate in the Caledonia Mine near Ontonagon, Michigan, the Norway Mine in Norway, Michigan, and the Quincy Mine in Hancock, Michigan. Using samples of hair collected from individuals in these three colonies, they searched for the hydrogen “fingerprint” of the water located where the bats grew the fur. Maps have been created by ecologists of different water sources in varying locations, so matching the hair “fingerprint” to the water “fingerprint” can help distinguish the bat’s origin. Until recently, this process was only used in flying birds to track their migratory patterns.
“Relatively little is known about bat-to-bat interactions or how far bats travel between seasonal habitats,” states Sullivan. She explains, “Earlier attempts to use hydrogen isotopes with bats stalled because most hibernating bats don’t make dramatic seasonal migrations, and they have unclear molt patterns, making it difficult to connect their hair to a given habitat.”
In this most recent study, Sullivan, Bump, and their associates were able to, with a 95 percent confidence, project the summer locations of the colonies numbering 23,000 bats in the Norway Mine, tens of thousands in the Quincy Mine, and a probable quarter of a million bats in the Caledonia Mine. Utilizing the stable hydrogen method, the researchers were able to guess the geographic locations of where many of the bats may originate, some as far as 351 miles from their hibernating grounds.
White-nose syndrome has not yet affected northern bats in upper Michigan, as it has in southern bat colonies of the United States where entire populations have nearly been destroyed. It is important to study the little brown bats and how white-nose syndrome spreads, drastically affecting their populations.
Bump explains, “First, they are amazing mammals. Second, we should care about little brown bats because they eat millions of things for which we care much less, like mosquitos.”
This research was funded by the National Park Service Great Lakes Network and the Ecosystems Science Center and the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech.
Bat populations rebound in NY caves first struck by deadly white-nose syndrome
Associated Press, April 19, 2012
VOORHEESVILLE, N.Y. — Researchers found substantially more bats in several caves that were the first ones struck by white-nose syndrome, giving them a glimmer of hope amid a scourge that has killed millions of bats in North America.
Figures released Thursday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation showed notable increases in the number of little brown bats in three out of five upstate New York hibernation caves where scientists first noticed white nose decimating winter bat populations six years ago. The largest cave saw an increase from 1,496 little browns last year to 2,402 this winter.
There are hopes this is an early sign that bats can adapt to a disease that has spread to 19 states and Canada. But scientists caution it’s far too early to tell if it is the start of a trend or a statistical blip.
The survey found that statewide losses of little browns, the most common bat species in New York before white-nose, remain at about 90 percent.
New York state bat biologist Carl Herzog said that while counts were up in the three caves west of Albany for little browns, bat-counters could have missed some in previous surveys and new bats coming to hibernate in the caves are a contributing factor.
But the possibility that bat populations could adapt to the fungus has long been the hope of scientists.
“That’s what the perfect scenario would be — that the area that was first hit would be the first to recover because they would have had more time to adapt to the pathogen,” said Beth Buckles, an anatomic pathologist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.
Buckle, who is not involved in this project, said while she’s hopeful, she needs to see more data over more years.
In an effort to track the long-term effect of white-nose, Herzog and a team of researchers caught bats outside one early-hit hibernation cave on a recent moonlit night. Bats that flew out for an insect snack hit filament lines and fell into a bag where they were snatched up to be swabbed and examined.
As bats chirped in protest, their wings were stretched flat on an ultraviolet light table about twice the size of a smartphone screen. When the purple light shined through the translucent wing, infected spots that can’t be seen with the naked eye became fluorescent orange.
The infection patterns were photographed and will be compared with those of bats that succumbed to the disease years ago and with newly infected bats in Pennsylvania. They will also be compared with bats in the Czech Republic. Scientists recently confirmed that white-nose fungus hitchhiked from Europe, possibly on the boots or clothes of a well-traveled caver.
Based on observations so far, Herzog said bats from the long-exposed cave are dealing with the disease better.
But he said despite some good news from early-hit caves, there are still more questions than answers.
“This is not a widespread phenomenon,” Herzog said. “Hopefully it will be.”
Effort to save bats gets a hand
By Brian Nearing, timesunion.com, April 7, 2012
Vishnu Chaturvedi shows charts of a bat with White Nose Syndrome and close ups of the fungus Geomyces destructans in his office at Wadsworth Lab NYS Health Department on April 6, 2012 in Albany, N.Y. His work just won a major research grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has is looking for ways to fight White Nose Syndrome, which has killed millions of bats so far and is threatening to render some bats regionally extinct.( Lori Van Buren / Times Union)
ALBANY — Vishnu Chaturvedi is searching the vast kingdom of fungi for a silver bullet against a plague that has killed millions of bats throughout the Northeast since appearing in a Schoharie County cave. At labs in the Wadsworth Center of the state Department of Health, incubators designed to mimic the bats' chilly underground world of caves and mines are slowly growing several hundred kinds of fungus.The hope is that one may be able to overcome the fungus Geomyces destructans — which is behind a deadly disorder called white-nose syndrome (WNS) that infests caves where bats gather for winter hibernation, said Chaturvedi, head of the mycology department at Wadsworth.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently gave Wadsworth an $80,000 grant to support the work, on top of a $95,000 grant in 2011. This year's grant to Wadsworth was among $1.4 million given by the federal government to study WNS, the fungus and how it affects bats. ...
"We need to find a way to break the cycle, so that bats can return to caves that are no longer infected with the (WNS) fungus," said Chaturvedi. "We are looking at other fungus as a biological control."
Over the next several months, his lab will test two types of fungus already used commercially in farms, nurseries and greenhouses to protect crops like potatoes and apples from other destructive fungi, he said. Also being grown are several hundred fungus taken last summer from a half-dozen bat caves in New York and Vermont. These also will be tested to see if they can inhibit the WNS fungus. Worldwide, there are more than 1.5 million species of fungi, plant-like organisms that actually have more in common with animals than plants. Most fungus are not understood; so far, just 100,000 species have been fully described by researchers.
"The goal is that by the end of the year, we will provide our results to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services," said Chaturvedi. If any fungus appears promising, it could be applied to an infected cave as a field trial in the spring of 2013.
He said an effective fungus could inhibit the WNS fungus in one of four ways — it could outcompete it by growing faster and crowding out the WNS fungus, it could release antibiotic compounds that could kill it, it could release substances that interfere with the WNS fungus reproduction or it could directly attack the WNS fungus and break it down for nutrition.---
Feds asked to declare three bat species endangered
By Bartley Kives, Winnipeg Free Press, March 14, 2012
Two types of bats found in Manitoba may be declared endangered species as the federal government considers an emergency response to mass die-offs in Eastern Canada.
Millions of North American bats have been found dead or dying where they hibernate due to white-nose syndrome, a lethal disease caused by a fungus called geomyces destructans.
The disease typically wipes out 90 to 99 per cent of all bats in a given cave and has the potential to render all of the continent's hibernating species extinct. Migrating bat species do not appear to be affected by the fungus, which somehow wakes hibernating bats from their mid-winter torpor and leads them to starve to death.
Since its discovery in 2007, white-nose syndrome has decimated bat caves in 17 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, including Ontario. Given the rapid spread of the disease, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC, decided last month to ask federal Environment Minister Peter Kent to issue an emergency order to declare three bat species endangered.
Two of those species, the little brown bat and northern long-eared bat, are found in Manitoba. If Ottawa proceeds with the order, Manitoba could wind up with funding to help further protect hibernacula, said provincial wildlife biologist Bill Watkins, COSEWIC's Manitoba board member.
"It's pretty clear from the evidence the little brown bat is in trouble," said Watkins, referring to Manitoba's most familiar bat. Although common in the province, the species is expected to be affected by white-nose syndrome by 2015 as the fungus has already been found in a cave near Wawa, Ont., on the east side of Lake Superior.
Manitoba already protects all six of its bat species — three hibernating bats and three that fly south for the winter. Federal protection could provide funds to purchase hibernacula located on private land or install barriers around them to keep people out, Watkins said.
It would also raise awareness of the threat posed to bats and possibly encourage more Manitobans to create summer habitat for the flying creatures, said Craig Willis, a University of Winnipeg biologist and leading white-nose syndrome researcher.
Willis is less certain, however, about another aspect of the endangered-species designation — the creation of a recovery team given the task of managing the population.
"If the bats are decimated (in Manitoba), it's not exactly clear what a recovery team would do," he said.
Ottawa has three months to decide whether to proceed with the emergency order.
A Mysterious Disease Has Nearly Wiped Out Bat Populations in Parts of North America and No One Knows How to Stop It
John Soltes, Earth Island Journal, Spring 2012
Jackie Kashmer bundles up against the cold and walks past broken corn stalks and pyramids of freshly cut firewood to the outer reaches of her expansive property along New Jersey’s border with Pennsylvania. There, next to a pigpen, she enters a barn-sized building, kicks off her shoes and heads to the temporary home of her adopted loved ones.
This is the New Jersey Bat Sanctuary, Kashmer’s small rehabilitation center with the unenviable task of caring for hundreds of bats suffering from white-nose syndrome (WNS), the disease that has wiped out millions of these flying mammals and pushed some bat species closer to extinction.
The back room, where the ailing bats hang in their upside-down world, is like a miniature hospital ward. The infected ones – little brown bats, one of the species that has been hit the hardest – are frail and almost skeletal. Their wings are blotchy and translucent, like crepe paper stretched too far. Occasionally, Kashmer and her assistant name some of the more memorable cases. Winston was the first WNS patient. He arrived in bad shape and within a few hours had bitten off what remained of his wings. The severely dehydrated animal lost some skin on his bones and was left with ears that looked like they were disintegrating. Winston has since recovered, but his cousins don’t always fare as well.
Kashmer, usually a smiling lady with a penchant for laughing, is serious as she holds one of the sickest bats in her gloved hands, inspecting the animal carefully. The bat’s eyes seem swollen shut and its emaciated body fits all too snugly in her palm. With uncoordinated movements the little guy curls its wings around its body, like a child pulling a blanket closer for warmth.
“If you are not monitoring constantly, you’re going to come in and they’re going to be dead,” says Kashmer, a court reporter by day and a kind of Batwoman by night.
The New Jersey Bat Sanctuary is one outpost in a global community of researchers, conservationists, and government officials who are scrambling to understand the deadly epidemic and find some way to counteract it. It’s a community that has been in crisis mode since the disease was first spotted in a cave in New York state in February 2006. Today, at least 11 species of hibernating bats – including four species and subspecies that are listed as endangered – have been impacted by or are at risk from WNS.
“It’s probably the fastest decline of wild mammals in recorded history,” says Justin Boyles, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Tennessee who has been on the forefront of WNS research. “Everything’s gone in some of the northeastern caves.”
The epidemic threatens to permanently disrupt the ecology of the Northeast, where bats play a vital role in keeping insect populations in check. Equally worrisome, biologists have few ideas about stopping the fungus. Even as scientists uncover new information about this mysterious disease, the infection continues its implacable march – and bats, typically a staple silhouette on a midsummer evening, continue to fall, sometimes right out of the sky. Read more...!
Hope Fading for WV Bats
MetroNews, WV Outdoors, Chris Lawrence, Elkins, 2/25/2012
Typically by this time of the year DNR biologist Craig Stihler would be sequestered in his office to pour over data and photographs and have a fairly firm grip on bat numbers in West Virginia. However, the last three years have been anything but typical for Stihler and the West Virginia bat population. The years have been nothing short of a disaster. "White nose syndrome showed up here in 2009 and it's really changed the way we look at bats in caves in the winter time," said Stihler.
"Our first goal when white-nose showed up was to try and figure out the distribution in the state and seeing what the impact was on bats," said Stihler. "There was some hope as it moved further south it might not have the impact it had on bats further north."
That isn't the case at all. Stihler says they are finding in most caves a 90-percent mortality rate from the fungus and there are no signs it's slowing down. The outbreak is so devastating, Stihler has scaled back visits to the caves for fear he'll disturb those bats which are managing to survive and create added stress on them.
Research continues to find out the cause and hopefully the cure. Stihler says so far the best they can tell it's a naturally occurring fungus, but not one native to North America. Most researchers are confident this malady has been seen before in Europe, but over the years the European bats built up an immunity and aren't nearly as impacted. He surmises that may eventually happen here, but it will take a long time and the bats which only a few years ago were so common in West Virginia will be all but wiped out.
If there is any good news to report since the infection started in the New England states it may be bats in those New England caves are starting to show at least some resistance. Stihler says there has been less mortality this year than when white-nose first struck there.
The other ray of hope involves the endangered bats in West Virginia. Virginia Big Eared bat only three years ago were the chief concern of DNR biologists and how to improve their numbers. But they now seem to be faring the best amid the scourge of a rampant fungus.
Listen to a 5-minute audio interview by WV MetroNews with Craig Stihler of the WV DNR.
US bat killer strikes in Europe
NewScientist, 8 February 2012 by Andy Coghlan
White nose syndrome has been diagnosed in a European bat for the first time. The disease, caused by a fungus, Geomyces destructans, has wiped out millions of bats in the US since it was discovered there in 2006.
The single case, in a living bat, signifies that the disease may occur sporadically in European populations. Other European bats carry the fungus but do not develop white nose syndrome.
"There's definitely no disaster in Europe, and no mass mortality, and the long-term data suggest the situation remains stable," says Natália Martinková of the Czech Institute of Vertebrate Biology in Brno, who led the research.
Martinková studies greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) in a cave in the Czech Republic. She found crescent-shaped cavities filled with fungal spores and hyphae – the defining symptom of the disease – in the skin of one bat. "The pathology of the skin infection is diagnostic of white nose syndrome," she says.
Two dead bats on the cave floor were also found to be carrying the fungus, but there was no evidence that they had been killed by the disease.
The solitary case strengthens the argument that European bats have long acclimatised to the fungus. North American bats succumb because they have yet to develop resistance. The fungus is thought to have arrived recently in the US from Europe.
Last year Emma Teeling of University College Dublin in Ireland found in a study that bats in 12 European countries are carrying the fungus without any ill effects. She agrees that the isolated case of white nose syndrome is no reason to panic.
"To say that white nose syndrome is in Europe could be a bit premature," Teeling says. If anything, she says, the single case highlights the difficulty of defining when a bat has the disease and when it is harmlessly colonised by the fungus. Read more...
Deadly Bat Fungus Spreading in the Maritimes
By Justina Reichel, January 31, 2012
White-nose syndrome on this bat has spread to the wings and ears. The disease-causing fungus has been found at three new sites in New Brunswick. (NB Museum/Karen Vanderwolf)
A scientist in New Brunswick is sounding the alarm over a deadly fungus that is severely impacting bat populations in the province and could spread across the country.
During an inspection of the bats’ winter hibernation sites in recent weeks, Donald McAlpine, research curator of zoology at the New Brunswick Museum, found that the disease-causing fungus known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) has spread to three new sites.
This is despite the fact that it is still early in the hibernation season and WNS often doesn’t become evident until later in the winter.
McAlpine says the quick spread of the highly contagious disease is worrying and doesn’t bode well.
“There’s great concern that eventually [WNS] will make its way to Western Canada. There’s a very diverse bat fauna in B.C. and other parts of Western North America, so there’s plenty of concern there.”
The disease appeared in Ontario and Quebec in 2009 but McAlpine made the first Maritime discovery in New Brunswick in March 2011. The one infected site he found housed the largest concentration of hibernating bats in New Brunswick. Of the estimated 6,000 bats in the cave, 90 percent had died. Read more...
Cavers question scope of white nose bat deaths
MONTPELIER, Vt. — A national organization of recreational cavers is questioning a new estimate of the number of bats killed by a mysterious ailment that is spreading across the country.
The estimate by state and federal scientists said 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats had died across the Northeast from what's known as white nose syndrome. But that estimate, released this month, is flawed and could lead to unnecessary restrictions on access to caves across the country, said Peter Youngbear, a Vermont-based official with the National Speleological Society.
"This is extremely important as this number is likely to drive significant wildlife and land management decisions," Youngbear wrote in a letter to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Decisions about closing caves, which would impact local economies, will be made based on the estimates, he pointed out.
"It is imperative that it be as accurate and defensible as possible," Youngbear wrote.
The federal government defended the estimate. If anything, it's too low, said Ann Froschauer, the Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman on white nose issues.
"The group of biologists from the Northeast and from university and research institutions that came together have many, many years of experience in working with bats," she said.
White nose is caused by a fungus that prompts bats to wake from their winter hibernation and die when they fly into the winter landscape in search of food that isn't there. First spotted in New York six years ago, it's been found in 16 states and four Canadian provinces.
It's nearly wiped out some species. One of the hardest-hit is the little brown bat, once the most common bat in the Northeast and found across the country, in much of Canada and north into Alaska.
So far, biologists have been unable to prevent its spread.
"The spread is epic at this point. We're halfway across the country," Froschauer said. "... We have no indication it's slowing down."
The federal government has closed caves and mines that it controls and where bats hibernate, but it doesn't have the authority to close caves on private property or those owned by the states or other federal agencies.
Froschauer acknowledged that recreational cavers are frustrated. Read more...
Nearly 7 million bats may have died from white-nose fungus, officials say
By Darryl Fears, Washington Post, January 17
More than five years since the deadly white-nose fungus was first detected in a New York cave where bats hibernate, up to 6.7 million of the animals are estimated to have died in 16 states and Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.
The estimate, drawn from surveys by wildlife officials mostly in Northeastern states where the disease thrives, confirmed the worst fears of biologists who have been counting dead bats covered in the powdery fungus in mines and caves every winter and worrying whether the little brown bat, the northern long-eared bat and the tricolored bat will survive.
“We’re watching a potential extinction event on the order of what we experienced with bison and passenger pigeons for this group of mammals,” said Mylea Bayless, conservation programs manager for Bat Conservation International in Austin, Tex.
“The difference is we may be seeing the regional extinction of multiple species,” Bayless said. “Unlike some of the extinction events or population depletion events we’ve seen in the past, we’re looking at a whole group of animals here, not just one species. We don’t know what that means, but it could be catastrophic.” Read more...---
European bats could offer white nose solution
Associated Press, 8 January 2012
MONTPELIER, Vt. — A scientist studying the mysterious fungal ailment killing millions of bats across Vermont, New York and other states says the experiences of European bats that have been infected with a similar fungus that they've survived could provide lessons in the best way to control white nose fungus.
Most scientists believe the fungus that causes white nose syndrome in North America was brought from Europe where it was first introduced into caves in New York state. Definitive proof that the fungus is an invasive species has not yet been shown, though a study that could make that link is nearing completion.
"We have done an experiment and are analyzing the data," said Craig Willis, a biology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Canada, who has been studying the issue with money from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other sources. "If we find evidence of the invasive species hypothesis, then it makes very good sense on focusing our efforts on European bats in hopes that we might come up with some approach for managing the disease in North America."
While definitive proof is lacking, many scientists studying white nose are convinced the fungus that causes the white patch that gives the disease its name came from Europe, making the fungus another in a long line of invasive species.
"It would meet the definition of an exotic invasive organism," said Scott Darling, a biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife who has led the state's work on white nose since the mysterious death of thousands of bats in the state was first noticed. "For some of us in this game the invasive species battle has been focused on reptiles, amphibians or mammals as well as plants. Now we're dealing with microbes and that's a whole other battle." Read more...