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

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.