White-Nose Syndrome in North America

White- Nose Syndrome in Western North America

In 2007, biologists noticed strange behaviors in hibernating bats in the eastern US and mysterious colony die-offs associated with a white fungal growth on bat noses. In a remarkably short period of time (eight years) biologists documented the spread of WNS into 31 states, from Maine to Washington, and five Canadian provinces. WNS alters the physiology and bioenergetics of bat hibernation, and ultimately leads to increased arousal frequency, depletion of fat reserves, and bat mortality. Biologists estimate more than 5.7 million bats of seven different species have succumbed to the disease; the ecological and economic implications of this die-off could be immense.

The WCS Health Programs' staff are collaborating with a number of bat scientists to develop a bioenergetics model to help predict WNS vulnerability bats across North America, especially for populations of bats in the western US and near their northern range limit. This information will be a crucial component of building a systematic understanding of WNS impacts across North America and understanding where protection of safe bat refugia may be needed to allow for bat recovery in the future.

WCS is also part of a team testing probiotics to save bats of western North America from WNS. Probiotics combat disease-causing microbes in humans and the team believes they can do the same in bats, having identified 14 bacteria that inhibit the growth of the WNS fungus. Instead of being ingested, the probiotics are administered in a powder form contacted by the bats as they enter and exit their summer roosts.

Researchers from the project spoke with the Guardian newspaper in October 2018 to highlight the importance of this work:

Plague Marching West: Researchers Study Bats to Stop Their Demise

                                                                          Photo Credit for Townsend’s big-eared bat: and banner photo:  Nate Fuller, Texas Tech University

White Nose Syndrome in Eastern North America: Communicating Conservation in Risk-Laden Species

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease that has had devastating effects on the populations of seven bat species in the United States. As scientists understand more about the epizootic traits of the fungus known to cause WNS, and how it affects bat populations, developing strategies for conservation and recovery is essential.

Conservation-focused messages focus on encouraging landowners to adopt certain behaviors that will support recovery of bat species and prevent further decline of affected species. Yes these messages often conflict with those focusing on the public health risks associated with human-bat interactions, including the threat from rabies. New communication efforts need to focus on reconciling these messages in a way that makes sense to homeowners and the general public.

The WCS Adirondacks Program is leading a project is increase understanding of public reaction to inconsistent messages about bats from wildlife and public health agencies and recommend communication strategies that meet multiple agencies’ objectives while promoting human behaviors that will facilitate conservation and recovery for bats.

Investigating How PD Arrived in North America


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