Confirmed and Likely Cases of White-nose Syndrome
Winter 2006 - 07 Winter 2007 - 08 Winter 2008 - 09 Winter 2009 - 10 Winter 2010 - 11
affected the longest, such as New York and New England, though it’s too early to say for sure. One grim explanation for this bit of “good news” is that the Northeast may simply be running out of bats to die.
There have been a few promising signs on the research front. European scientists have documented white fungal growth on healthy bats of eight species in 12 countries, from France to Turkey. The European bats do not appear to suffer mortality from the fungus, and may have both physiological and behavioral traits that allow them to survive it. Biologists hold out the hope that if they can discover what allows European bats to survive, they can develop a treatment for North American bats.
There are still some questions about how the disease is spread. Biologists have concluded that bats themselves are the primary mode of G. destructans transmission in North America. However, most researchers also agree that human transmission is definitely possible, and may be the most likely explanation for its movement from Europe to North America. It has been documented that the fungus can be transported on boots or other gear, and fungal spores, generally, have the capacity to survive environmental extremes of temperature and drought until they find more favorable conditions for growth.
Because of that potential for human transmission, and the particularly dangerous possibility that the disease could “leapfrog” into unaffected areas, the Center has petitioned federal land managers to prohibit all-but- essential human travel into caves and abandoned mines in the lower 48 states. Agencies in the eastern United States have instituted widespread
cave closures, but in the West — where it’s vital that the disease doesn’t gain a foothold — cave closures have been spotty at best. Failing to stem the spread of this deadly disease puts bat populations around the country at risk. And it isn’t just bats that suffer. A study published earlier this year in the journal Science estimated that the value of bats’ pest-control services to American farmers was $3.7 billion to $53 billion, every year. The disappearance of bats could mean greater pesticide use and, for organic farmers, the loss of a valuable non-toxic tool for keeping bugs in check.
In June, a broad coalition of conservation, organic farming, anti-pesticide and food-safety groups joined forces in calling on Congress to appropriate $10.8 million for research and management of white-nose syndrome. The groups also urged Congress to pass the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act to set up government infrastructure to rapidly respond to wildlife health crises like white-nose syndrome.
Ultimately, the disappearance of bats from our summer evenings is not simply a philosophical, aesthetic or even economic concern. The need for action to address white- nose syndrome stems from the vital role bats play in the natural world and in relationship to our own well-being. Ignoring their plight is, in the end, ignoring our own. •
Mollie Matteson works from the Center’s
ermont office, where she heads up our Save Our Bats campaign as well as other Center efforts to protect native ecosystems and imperiled species in the Northeast.
First discovered in New ork in 2006, white-nose syndrome has since appeared in a total of 17 states and four Canadian provinces. In addition, bats in Missouri and Oklahoma have been found with the fungus that causes the disease.
WHITENoSE SYNDRoME MAP BY CURT BRADLEY/CENTER FoR BIoLoGICAL DIVERSITY; MAP DATA SoURCE: PENNSYLVANIA GAME CoMMISSIoN