Published Date: 2011-12-22 12:01:13
Subject: PRO/AH> White nose syndrome, bats - North America (10): hopeful news
Archive Number: 20111222.3657
WHITE NOSE SYNDROME, BATS - NORTH AMERICA (10): HOPEFUL NEWS
A ProMED-mail post
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International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: 20 Dec 2011
Source: The Republic.com [edited]
Scientists hopeful in fight to stop bat die-off
Scientists studying the mysterious ailment that has killed millions of
bats in an epidemic that is spreading its way across North America say
they have detected a tiny sliver of hope in their search for a way to
end what has become known as white nose syndrome.
For unexplained reasons, scientists across the Northeast have been
finding isolated colonies of little brown bats -- once the most common
bat species in the region and the hardest hit by white nose syndrome
-- surviving and healthy.
It's too soon to say if the surviving colonies represent a nucleus
that could eventually repopulate the region where millions of bats
once devoured tens of billions of insects every year, but scientists
are planning to study the survivors in hopes of learning why. The
scientists are planning to meet next month in Pennsylvania to seek the
best ways to learn from the survivors.
"You've got a tiny little fingernail holding onto the cliff, and
that's good," said Mollie Matteson, from the Richmond office of the
nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which has been pushing for
more federal research money for white nose.
"It's been a disease where there's been one negative thing after
another," said Greg Turner, a wildlife biologist for the Pennsylvania
Game Commission, who is helping monitor an abandoned coal mine in
Luzerne County, where an estimated 2000 bats survive and appear to be
healthy. "It's finally nice to see some glimmer of hope."
Before white nose, the mine held between 50 000 and 80 000 bats in the
White nose, caused by a fungus that prompts bats to wake from their
winter hibernation and die when they fly into the frigid, insect-less
winter landscape, was 1st detected in New York's Adirondack Mountains
in 2006 and since then it has been spreading across North America.
It's believed to have killed at least a million bats. It's reached as
far west as Missouri and is also spreading west across Canada around
the Great Lakes.
The leading hypothesis is that the fungus that causes white nose came
from Europe where it has been found on bats, but it does not have the
mortality it does in North America, said Ann Froschauer, the lead
spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's investigation
into white nose.
Scott Darling of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife say
biologists have found 15 colonies in the western part of the state
where bats are surviving and appear to healthy. There's no reliable
estimate about what the total bat population was before the arrival of
white nose, but in some caves and abandoned mines where bats live, up
to 99 percent have died, Turner said.
Even if the mortality were to end now it could be hundreds of years
before populations of the slow-reproducing bats could rebound to where
they were before white nose, Froschauer said.
The species known as little brown bats were once the most common in
the northeast, and they were responsible for eating countless insects
every year. Other bat species, such as the large brown bat, while
still affected by white nose, aren't as hard hit.
"What we are trying to do is chip away at the (causes) of this
disease," Turner said. "If there are individuals that are surviving,
is there anything we can learn about why?"
In New York, biologists have found that some bats at Fort Drum exposed
to white nose are reproducing.
"While it's still too early to make any long-term conclusions from the
recent Fort Drum white nose study, the Department of Environmental
Conservation is encouraged over the finding that some bats can survive
and reproduce despite exposure to the syndrome during winter
hibernation over 2 consecutive years," said DEC spokesman Rick
In Vermont, biologists have identified 15 colonies in the western part
of the state where the numbers of little brown bats, while still far
fewer than before white nose appeared, are surviving, said Vermont
Fish and Wildlife Biologist Scott Darling.
"We visited each and every one of those colonies and to some degree,
much to our surprise, they seem to be healthy," Darling said. "It
begged the question, 'Why are you the lucky ones?'"
Darling said there are 3 basic hypotheses about the survivors that
will be studied: Are the bats behaving in ways that keep them from
getting infected? Are they from areas that haven't been infected?
Could they have some genetic resistance to white nose that is just
beginning to appear? Before white nose, 73 percent of the bats
captured by Vermont biologists in summer studies were little browns
and 5 percent were big browns. Now, the figure is almost exactly
reversed. This summer, Darling said Vermont biologists are hoping to
find any of the less common northern long eared bats.
Matteson said that while the survivors are good news, much needs to be
done to protect the survivors and make it possible for them to
reproduce. One method being tried is the use of special bat boxes
where the bats would be able to roost in the summer and keep warm when
raising their young.
[Byline: Wilson Ring]
ProMED-mail from HealthMap alerts
[What excellent news!!! Some colonies are surviving, and perhaps
developing a resistance. I hope the researchers are extremely careful
to not carry any of the fungus, or other viruses or bacteria into
these precious few bats. - Mod.TG
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