Deadly fungus threatens 9 bat species in Ga., Ky., N.C., S.C. and Tenn., expert says

Apr 07, 2010

A leading bat expert with the USDA Forest Service's Southern Research Station today identified nine bat species in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee that she believes are most threatened by white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungus that kills bats and appears to be rapidly spreading south from the northeastern United States. Station Research Ecologist Susan Loeb, Ph.D. says WNS has been confirmed in Tennessee, and she says it is just a matter of time before the fungus is detected in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina.

"In the five states where most of my research has centered, little-brown and Indiana bats are among the most threatened by WNS - meaning their populations could either be seriously decimated or become extinct," said Loeb, a veteran wildlife researcher based in Clemson, S.C. "Historically, little-brown bats were quite common, but the species appears to be especially susceptible to the and is being hit hard in the states where WNS has taken hold. While populations of the federally endangered Indiana bat showed signs of rebounding in recent years, those gains may soon be negated by white-nose syndrome."

Loeb is also concerned that WNS will have serious effects on populations of small-footed bats, northern long-eared bats, and Eastern pipistrelles, either because of their small populations, their susceptibility to the disease or both. Other species that could be infected are the Virginia big-eared bat, Rafinesque's big-eared bat, gray bat and southeastern bat. More than a dozen bat species inhabit Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

"Virginia big-eared bats are endangered, so their small numbers and limited distribution put the species at serious risk of becoming extinct in Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia if they become infected," said Loeb. "Rafinesque's big-eared bat is a rare species that hibernates in caves in the karst regions of North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Thus they too could be infected with WNS and suffer dramatic declines. However, this species also roosts in large hollow trees and other structures in the coastal plain regions and may be safe from the disease in part of its range."

Bats play an important role in keeping forests and other landscapes healthy and productive. One of their primary roles is insect, or pest, control. A handful of bats can eat thousands of mosquito-sized insects in one night. In tropical and subtropical regions bats also pollinate many agricultural plants and help with seed dispersal. Unfortunately, most bat populations in the have declined over the years. Habitat loss and disturbance and degradation of hibernacula and maternity roosts are major contributors to their decline.

Loeb is among the many scientists actively studying the spread of WNS. Her research on bat migration will help in monitoring and predicting the spread of WNS in the South. She is also collaborating with partners in the public and private sectors to produce a searchable bat database that will enable researchers to better track populations in the East. The database will serve as a central repository that will provide new insights into bat distributions and movements, which is critical for understanding and predicting the spread of WNS. Other Forest Service offices, Clemson University, and the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network and Northeastern Bat Working Group are partners in the project.

Additionally, Loeb is studying bat habitat associations in the southern United States and results from these studies could be used to help restore certain bat species and populations in the event that WNS becomes widespread in the South.

Loeb remains in close contact with biologists and researchers in the Forest Service's National Forest System Regional Offices and Northern Research Station to address WNS, as well as scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and state agencies who are aggressively studying and trying to mitigate the effects of WNS.

So far, WNS is confirmed in the following 11 states: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. The disease is also confirmed in Canada. The first case of the disease in the United States was reported in New York State in 2006. The disease is confirmed in six .

WNS affects bats that hibernate in caves and mines. Government agencies closed caves to the public in an effort to reduce the spread of WNS. The disease received its name because of the white fungus often seen on the noses, muzzles and wings of infected bats. In 2008, government scientists identified the fungus that causes WNS. Researchers are trying to better understand exactly how and why the fungus kills bats. More than a million bats have died as the result of WNS. Some experts believe the disease originated in Europe.

Explore further: No-take marine reserves a no-win for seahorses

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists unravel the mystery of white-nose syndrome

Jun 03, 2009

The mysterious disease that has killed more than 90 percent of wintering bats in some caves and mines from Vermont to Virginia during the last three years has raised numerous questions about the nature of the disease and ...

Some bat numbers up in Britain

Dec 31, 2006

At least four species of bats in Britain have reversed decades of declining populations and have grown in numbers recently.

Forest Service closes caves to stop bat fungus

May 01, 2009

(AP) -- The U.S. Forest Service is closing thousands of caves and former mines in national forests in 33 states in an effort to control a fungus that has already killed an estimated 500,000 bats.

Recommended for you

Extinctions during human era worse than thought

41 minutes ago

It's hard to comprehend how bad the current rate of species extinction around the world has become without knowing what it was before people came along. The newest estimate is that the pre-human rate was ...

Robotics to combat slimy pest

4 hours ago

One hundred years after they arrived in a sack of grain, white Italian snails are the target of beleaguered South Australian farmers who have joined forces with University of Sydney robotics experts to eradicate ...

Migratory fish scale to new heights

5 hours ago

WA scientists are the first to observe and document juvenile trout minnow (Galaxias truttaceus Valenciennes 1846) successfully negotiating a vertical weir wall by modifying their swimming technique to 'climb' ...

Frequent fire and drying climate threaten WA plants

5 hours ago

Murdoch University fire ecology experts have warned that in Western Australia's drying climate, many of the plant species which contribute to the stunning wildflower displays north of Perth may need 50 per ...

User comments : 0