Scientists Receive Grant Funding for White-Nose Syndrome Research

Four USDA Forest Service research studies examining strategies for managing white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that has killed an estimated 5 to 6 million bats in the United States, are among projects that will receive grant funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Fungi and bats are among the most elusive species on the planet, which makes white-nose syndrome a particularly challenging disease to manage,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “Forest Service scientists have expertise on both and are working on a variety of approaches to reduce the mortality of bats in the face of this devastating disease. We are honored and grateful for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s support of this research.”

Little brown bats hibernate together in caves. Most of these bats have fungal growth on their noses. Photo courtesy of Nancy Heaslip, NY Department of Environmental Conservation.

Little brown bats hibernate together in caves. Most of these bats have fungal growth on their noses. Photo courtesy of Nancy Heaslip, NY Department of Environmental Conservation.

White-nose syndrome is caused by a cold-loving fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), which is deadly to hibernating bats because it penetrates tissues of the nose and mouth as well as the wings, which are vital to bats’ ability to avoid dehydration and maintain body temperature. In affected hibernacula, 78 to 100 percent of bat populations have died.

As a major predator of defoliating forest and agricultural insects, bats are important to forests and forest health. The value of bats to the agricultural industry is estimated at $23 billion/year.

The grants, which were announced Tuesday, include a total of $410,690 for Forest Service research at the Northern Research Station, the Southern Research Station, and the Center for Forest Mycology Research, part of the Forest Products Laboratory. Projects include:

  • In Columbia, Mo., Sybill Amelon is leading a project that includes Forest Service scientist Dan Lindner, Chris Cornelison, a postdoctoral research associate at Georgia State University, and Sarah Hooper, a comparative medicine resident at the University of Missouri, to explore the use of a native soil bacterium to produce natural volatiles that inhibit growth of the Pd fungus that causes WNS. Their work received a grant of $165,000.
  • In Madison, Wis., Lindner and a team that includes Forest Service researchers Jessie Glaeser, Jonathan Palmer and Michelle Jusino are analyzing the sensitivities of Pd to UV light and the possibility of using light to kill Pd in caves bats use to hibernate. Their work received a grant of $129,681.
  • In Clemson, S.C., Susan Loeb is working with Eric Britzke of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center on research that focuses on understanding the vulnerability of tri-colored bats to WNS in the southern United States. Loeb’s work received a grant of $95,409
  • In Madison, Glaeser is developing decontamination protocols to mitigate human-based transmission of Pd. She will receive a grant of $20,600.