Bat-killing fungus has spread across 26 states

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A bat displays signs of the deadly white-nose syndrome. Photo via USFWS.

Nebraska officials confirm presence of white-nose syndrome

Staff Report

Bat-killing white-nose syndrome has been confirmed in Nebraska, which means the deadly fungus has now spread to 26 states and five Canadian provinces, wiping out populations of hibernating bats along the way.

“While the presence of the fungus is disappointing, it is not surprising,” said Mike Fritz, a zoologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “With the fungus being present in states around us and the migratory nature of bats, it was probably only a matter of time before it was documented in Nebraska.”

The Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus was detected in samples from bats hibernating in a mine ineastern Nebraska. Northern long-eared bats, tri-colored bats and big brown bats tested positive for the fungus.

White-nose syndrome has killed more than six million bats in North America since it was first discovered in New York in 2007. In some states, winter bat numbers have declined by more than 90 percent.

“Although the fungus has been found in Nebraska, the signs of WNS, white fungal growth on the nose and lesions on the wings, have not yet been observed on any bats in the state,” Fritz said.

WNS does not infect humans and is only known to affect cave-hibernating bats. The fungus thrives in cold, humid environments and invades the skin of bats, disrupting their hibernating behavior and depleting their fat stores.

Recent studies have shown that the value of insect control by bats to agriculture is worth several billion dollars annually. This value includes reduced crop loss to insect pests, reduced spread of crop diseases and reduced need for pesticide application.

“There is no cure for white-nose syndrome, “said Jeremy Coleman, National White-nose Syndrome Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “But researchers are studying several potential treatments that show promise for controlling the fungus and reducing impacts of the disease on bats.”

These include bacteria and fungi that inhibit the growth of P. destructans, environmental manipulations, genetic modifications to reduce the virulence of the fungus, vaccines and other biologically-based anti-fungal compounds. More info at: whitenosesyndrome.org/.

Conservation advocates say states and the federal government should be doing more to protect bats.

“The spread of white-nose syndrome has been an extinction tsunami sweeping out of the eastern United States. Eventually it is going to break in the West, and there, it will encounter many new bat species potentially vulnerable to the disease,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given the failure of state and federal wildlife agencies to provide the strong, additional legal protections several eastern bats now need to survive, the prospects for western bats are troubling.”

The protection of white-nose affected bats has been a highly contentious issue. For example, industries such as timber, oil and gas, mining and wind energy opposed the listing of the northern long-eared bat earlier this year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service weakened protection for the species, listing it as “threatened” instead of “endangered.”

 

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