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Bat Crisis: White-nose Syndrome
Digital Journal, April 4, 2011

Lethal bat disease spreads, now found in Ohio and New Brunswick
By Lynn Herrmann

Richmond - Bat colonies in Ohio are now diagnosed with white-nose syndrome, a fast-moving lethal disease first diagnosed in the US in 2006 that is sweeping across the eastern part of the country, leaving more than 1 million dead bats in its wake.

The disease has also been found in a second county in Maryland and last week, Canadian officials announced the first discovery of the disease in New Brunswick. It has now been confirmed in 17 states and provinces.

“This disease is burning through our bat populations like a five-alarm fire,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), according to a center news release. “But right now, all we’ve got from our wildlife agencies is the equivalent of a couple of rusty fire trucks barely out of the station,” she added.

The newly announced sites come at a time when a new study was released detailing the pest-control services that bats provide to the agricultural community. In the US, insect-eating bats provide between $3.7 billion to $53 billion annually in insect control to agriculture, according to a new study, Economic Importance of Bats in Agriculture, published in Science magazine last week.

“Bats eat tremendous quantities of flying pest insects, so the loss of bats is likely to have long-term effects on agricultural and ecological systems,” said Justin Boyles, lead author of the study and researcher with the University of Pretoria, a US Geological Survey news release notes. “Consequently, not only is the conservation of bats important for the well-being of ecosystems, but it is also in the best interest of national and international economies.”

Biologists discovered white-nose syndrome’s latest locations at an abandoned mine in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest earlier this winter. Lab tests confirmed the disease in a colony that includes the Indiana bat, a federally endangered species. Its population has declined by more than 30 percent since the disease was first discovered in 2006.

Also found at the abandoned mine were the northern long-eared bat and the little brown bat. Both species have taken a hit as the disease continues spreading throughout the US. Little brown bats were once the most common bat species in the eastern US, but their colonies have almost disappeared from that region in recent years, CBD reports.

Earlier in March, biologists in New Brunswick found more than 1,200 dead bats in an abandoned mine, site of the province’s most important bat wintering home, or bat hibernaculum. Around 6,000 little brown bats and northern long-eared bats call the mine their home each winter, but the discovery of such a massive die-off is troubling.

White-nose syndrome, a fuzzy white fungus appearing on bats’ muzzles and wings, generally will first appear in only a small number of individuals at a new location, subsequently increasing its mortality rate in following winters.

“While white-nose syndrome continues to spread, the small amount of money allocated to this disaster is shrinking to virtually nothing. We will not save bats by standing by and watching them die,” said Matteson.

CBD’s efforts at bat protection include petition filings to add two species to the federal endangered species list, requesting congressional funding for white-nose syndrome research, and calling for an administrative closure of all bat caves and abandoned mines located on federal land in an effort to stop the potential spreading of the disease by people.

White-nose syndrome is currently found as far west as western Oklahoma.
Photo © Paul S. Hamilton