Bat Cave Rescue
Promising Progress Against Disease
A cold-loving fungus known as white-nose syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) originating in Eurasia, where bats evolved to develop immunity to it, began infecting 15 species of hibernating bats in North America in 2006. As the fungus grows over bats’ noses and wings, it disrupts their winter sleep, causing them to expend too much energy and burn up fat they need for winter survival. More than 6 million bats have succumbed to the disease so far. Some species are experiencing near total collapse: Little brown bat populations have been decimated by about 90 percent, while tricolored and northern long-eared bats are suffering losses of around 97 percent. Ecologists thought the fungus might halt at the Rockies, but by 2016 it had made its way to Washington State.
A collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, biologists, ecologists, mycologists, biochemists and other scientists at universities, NGOs and state, federal and tribal agencies have made significant progress in combating the fungus using genomics: Sequencing its genes has allowed them to determine its origin. Plans include treating the caves and mines in which the bats hibernate. It also appears that some species are developing resistance to the fungus or developing coping strategies, like waking up together every night to generate extra group warmth.
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This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Natural Awakenings.