For Immediate Release, June 12, 2014
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487
Fungus That Causes Deadly Bat Disease Spreads to Mississippi
White-nose Syndrome Has Already Killed Millions of Bats in United States
JACKSON, Miss.— The fungus that causes the bat-killing disease known as white-nose syndrome has been detected for the first time in Mississippi. The fungus that has already spread to 25 states and killed millions of bats was detected in Mississippi this past winter, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Mississippi wildlife officials confirmed this week. Scientists studying the spread of white-nose syndrome found the fungus at low levels on two different bat species in several caves and a road culvert. No signs of the fatal disease caused by the fungus have yet been found in any bats, but typically, once the fungus is detected the disease follows.
“Unfortunately, there’s little doubt that within another year or two, bats in Mississippi will be dying,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Bats in the American West are the next in line, and a whole new suite of bat species are going to be subjected to this ravaging illness.”
The announcement of the killer fungus, known as Pseudogynmoascus destructans, comes a couple months after Michigan and Wisconsin wildlife officials reported white-nose syndrome for the first time. The emerging disease, which scientists believe was likely inadvertently carried by humans from Europe into North America, has killed nearly 7 million bats since 2006, including seven different bat species. The disease has spread to 25 eastern, Midwestern and southern states and five eastern Canadian provinces.
Bats are the primary vector of the fungus, which attacks them as they hibernate in winter. But biologists have documented that people can also transport the fungus on their clothing, shoes or equipment. Scientists have found the fungus on bats in caves throughout Europe, but European bats do not appear to suffer any serious effects. The disease was first documented in North America in a cave in upstate New York.
Land-management officials have closed caves in much of the eastern and southern United States, as well as in a few locations in the West, as a precautionary measure to help slow the human-facilitated spread of the disease. However, thousands of caves on western public lands remain open to recreational use.
“Every year that we can prevent the possible human-caused spread of white-nose syndrome into the West is one more year researchers have to find an effective solution to this devastating disease,” said Matteson. “If the deaths of millions of western bats can be prevented, then every effort should be made to do that.”
White-nose syndrome has been called the worst wildlife health crisis in recent memory, causing mortality rates among bats ranging up to 100 percent in affected caves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already recommended one bat species, the northern long-eared bat, be protected under the Endangered Species Act due to its dramatic decline from white-nose syndrome. Biologists believe other species may also soon require federal protection.
Scientists have estimated the economic value of insect-eating bats to American agriculture at $22 billion annually. Bats also eat tons of insects harmful to forests, and their guano is essential to the survival of extremely rare cave organisms, such as cave salamanders and fish.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.