Thursday, August 8, 2013

United Kingdom's bats not affected by white-nose syndrome holds hope for North American species

Now that British biologist have determined the bats in that island nation are immune from white-nose syndrome the next – and most logical - question to ask is “why?”

Follow that one up with the much broader and challenging riddle answer is whether such immunity can be installed in North America's bat population.

An answer is needed, too. White-nosed syndrome has devastated bat colonies throughout the eastern half of the country and is moving westward.
Since 2006 when the disease was first detected an estimated six million North American bats have died from the effects of white-nose syndrome, a figure that not only is growing but one that puts at risk several listed endangered bat species.

To date, white-nose syndrome has been observed in 22 different states' bat colonies.

Ohio is not exempt, either, from the ravages of the cold-loving fungal disease. To date, white-nose syndrome has been found in 16 of Ohio's 88 counties, including 10 counties just this past winter.

White-nose syndrome is a horrible disease. It deprives bats of the need to hibernate. Awakened in the dead of winter because of the fungus' symptoms, infected bats are unable to find a food source (insects) and further become physically weakened.

In a recent BBC article scientists said that white-nose syndrome “has been found in the (United Kingdom) (but) with no harmful effects.”

The story goes on to say how the fungus Psuedogymnoascus destructans has been discovered on a living bat and in soil samples from five sites.

Since no observable bat deaths have cropped up, British scientists opine that the island nation's bats may be “resistant to the fungus.”

Similarly, the fungus has appeared at sites across Europe, “but without (white-nose syndrome) or the associated large numbers of dead bats. It is likely European bats are also immune to the disease.”

A key question that must be answered, says British bat biologists, is whether members of the flying mammalian clan have built up a resistance to the disease or if some other factor is coming into play.

A major worry is that North America's bat species have yet to develop a like resistance to white-nose syndrome and whether they ever will before colony populations crash altogether.

So concerned about the threat imposed by white-nose syndrome, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists are working closely with their counterparts in 28 states to try and get a handle on the perplexing problem.

In June the Fish and Wildlife Service issued nearly $1 million in grants for state projects that directly address the issue.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife received very nearly the maximum allocation, being awarded $43,000.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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