Hibernating bats species are threatened by a rapidly spreading, lethal disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS). The disease is caused by a new fungal pathogen, presumed to be exotic, called Geomyces destructans. It was first discovered in 2007 in upstate New York, and has already killed over a million bats, including rare and endangered species. The pathogen is spreading rapidly south and west.
Wildlife biologist Sybill Amelon of the Northern Research Station (NRS) in Columbia, MO, has specialized in bat biology since 1995 and is the Forest Service’s research liaison to the interagency task force mobilized to deal with WNS. She is currently evaluating genetic viability of the Indiana bat based on current population losses.
Amelon has genotyped hundreds of Indiana bats from samples collected throughout their natural range. Preliminary population analyses suggest this species may have already have had reduced genetic diversity pre-WNS, so that high mortality from WNS in the Northeast will make this species particularly vulnerable. To date there is no indication of resistance to the disease among hibernating bat species.
Other NRS scientists, Daniel Lindner and Jessie Glaeser, are working with partners to characterize the distribution of the pathogen in cave sediment samples from bat hibernation sites in the eastern United States. They are using molecular identification techniques that Lindner helped to develop. The fungus was found in cave sediment samples from states where WNS is known to occur, suggesting that the fungus can persist in the environment, but was not found in caves outside the region of known infestations. Closely related fungi, some previously unknown to science, were also found.
Bat biologists are using this research to devise strategies to save these animals from extinction: National Interagency Team Mobilizing To Tackle White-Nose Syndrome of Bats.
Animated Map of WNS Spread
Bat Crisis: White-Nose Syndrome, Center for Biological Diversity
Bat Conservation, US Forest Service
White-Nose Syndrome, US Geological Survey
White-Nose Syndrome, US Fish & Wildlife Service