White-Nose Syndrome: Researchers Continue Fight to Save Bats

In 2015, researchers from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) joined forces with fellow scientists from across the USDS Forest Service to fight the battle for bats.

A bat infected with white-nose syndrome. (Photo credit: Al Hicks, NYSDEC, Bugwood.org

A bat infected with white-nose syndrome. (Photo credit: Al Hicks, NYSDEC, Bugwood.org

According to a new interactive map published by the U.S. Forest Service, nearly 6 million bats in Eastern North America have died from White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) since 2006, and the population continues to decrease.

The syndrome, caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), is a fungal disease that attacks the mouth, nose, and wings of hibernating bats, leading to dehydration, an unstable body temperature, and death.

As one of the main predators of night-flying insects, bats help keep the forest ecosystems healthy and balanced. WNS has spread among seven species of bat in North America and plant pathologists and mycologists at FPL have been working to stop it.

With help from scientists at Georgia State University and other Forest Service stations, researchers at the Lab’s Center for Forest Mycology Research formed the first team of experts to conduct treatment trials on WNS-infected bats.  The bats were treated with a volatile organic compound produced by a common soil bacteria, in hopes that it will inhibit the growth of Pd.  So far, the treatment has proven successful, but scientists continue to monitor the effects.

While WNS has largely remained contained in states east of the Great Plains, researchers across the entire country continue to take preventative measures, such as restricting access to caves, to help prevent and decrease further spread of the disease.  Other WNS research areas include habitat management and identification of resistant populations.

As the possibilities for treatment and eradication of WNS continue to develop, so does a healthier future for bats and forests everywhere.

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta