Agencies Fight On as White-Nose Syndrome Advances

The numbers are extremely bleak: bats in 20 states are now affected by white-nose syndrome (WNS) or the associated fungus, and the estimated death toll was recently revised upward to a staggering 5.7 million (or more) bats. If there is any cause for hope, it resides in the efforts of federal, state, and tribal wildlife agencies and non-governmental organizations to coordinate and manage their WNS investigation and response activities on a national level. Confirmation that the fungus Geomyces destructans causes white-nose syndrome was one major step forward. Knowing this better enables scientists to devise ways to control the spread of the fungus and treat affected sites without introducing chemicals that would damage these delicate ecosystems. Additional research currently underway includes improving WNS detection techniques; developing a better understanding of how WNS is transmitted; determining the mechanics of G. destructans infection in bats, including the susceptibility and resistance of bats to the infection; and determining how persistent the fungus is in the environment. The discovery of some surviving—albeit isolated—colonies of little brown bats may also help scientists learn what conditions or traits allow some bats to escape the disease.