View Full Version : White-Nose Syndrome surfaces in Pennsylvania

01-23-2009, 10:29 PM
White-Nose Syndrome surfaces in Pennsylvania

The deadly bat disorder is likely present in a mine in the state's heartland
By Joe Kosack
Pennsylvania Game Commission

SHINDLE, Penn. — Aware since 2008 that White-Nose Syndrome appeared to be making its way to the Keystone State, the Pennsylvania Game Commission now has evidence that the deadly bat disorder is likely present in a mine near this small community in the state's heartland. Where else this may be occurring and the consequence to bats -a fragile guild of wildlife species - remains an unfolding story.

In late December, DeeAnn Reeder, a biologist with Bucknell University, and Greg Turner, a biologist with the Game Commission's Wildlife Diversity Section, found bats in an old Mifflin County iron mine that exhibited some of the signs of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), during field investigations into bat hibernation patterns that included weekly monitoring for the disorder's presence in several Pennsylvania hibernacula. During this work, which had been ongoing for weeks, dozens of bats suddenly had a fungus appear around their muzzles and on the wing membranes, while many more displayed other symptoms associated with this disorder. Several bats were submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, which now is reporting that the bats have preliminarily tested positive for the cold-loving fungi found on many bats with WNS.

"Our agency, with assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other management partners, will work diligently and methodically to measure the extent of the problem in Pennsylvania and monitor the disorder's progression," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "This find is a direct result of the Game Commission's ongoing initiative to proactively monitor for WNS.

"To date, no dead bats have been found in Pennsylvania. That's a plus, but it comes with no promise of what will or won't follow. In New York and New England, the disorder seems to arouse bats from hibernation prematurely. Once they depart from caves and mines, they quickly sap their energy reserves and die on the landscape. Mortality in some colonies has exceeded 90 percent, ensuring that any local recovery will be quite lengthy given the low reproductive rate of bats. Little brown and the federally-endangered Indiana bats produce only one young per year."
Currently, researchers still are unsure exactly how bats contract WNS and how it initially and, ultimately, affects a bat's body. They cannot confirm whether the fungus appearing on some bats is a cause or a symptom of the disorder. What is clear is that the geographic area where WNS has been documented is expanding. It was first found in bat colonies in New York in 2006, and subsequently in populations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont in 2007. Now bats in Pennsylvania and New Jersey appear to be affected.

"We do know that the visible fungus appears on some — but not all — bats afflicted with WNS, and that a significant percentage of bats in affected hibernacula move closer to the entrance," explained Turner. "The bats eventually leave their hibernacula — often in daylight, which is unnatural. Most of those bats likely die on the landscape, but some may return to the cave or mine they left. Researchers cannot determine what bats are searching for, or if they're hunting for anything. Most bats found dead on the landscape have depleted their fat reserves."

About the only thing certain about WNS is that its ambiguity continues to baffle the cadre of researchers who are working long hours to positively identify what it is, and if there is anything wildlife managers can do to disable it. WNS does appear to be spreading bat-to-bat, but it's unknown whether it's passed in summer roosts, or hibernacula, or both. It also is unknown yet whether the cause of WNS will linger in hibernacula without bats.

"Of course, there's also the possibility that bats have been — or are being — poisoned somehow," Turner said. "The source could vary; insecticides, herbicides, livestock supplements, changes in the composition of building materials, even changes in air and water quality. That's what makes this whole search so open-ended. But, to date, the disorder is found only in America's Northeast, so it would appear the source is here, too. That's a solid lead, if it is something like a toxin."

New York and New England have lost tens — maybe even hundreds — of thousands of bats to WNS over the past two years. Significant losses to bat populations could have ecological consequences because of the role that bats play in the environment. Across Pennsylvania, bats eat tractor-trailer loads of insects on summer nights, making our backyards more bearable and crop yields more bountiful.

"Bats have survived for more than 50 million years because they are tough mammals," said Lisa Williams, a Game Commission wildlife diversity biologist. "But they have become increasingly vulnerable. Destruction and disturbance of caves, changes to summer habitat, all have impacted bat populations. White-Nose now presents more uncertainty for bats. Quite frankly, we're not sure yet that we can help them survive this threat. We're looking for answers. "An impressive team of researchers is in place. But this whole situation has been so sudden, so fluid and so devastating to bats, that it makes it incredibly hard for wildlife managers to develop a conservation response."

The Game Commission spent last summer monitoring the state's bat maternity colonies for signs of mortality, both in adults and juveniles. Bats also were mist-netted and checked for abnormalities. Both efforts shed light into Pennsylvania's unfolding situation, but neither provided conclusive evidence as to what's happening.

"We came out of summer knowing that we hadn't lost major numbers of bats, but we did notice that some bats had small white spots on wing membranes," Turner said. "What the white spots represent is still unclear, but some researchers believe they may be the early signs of WNS.
"This past fall we began to examine the health of our bats to see if they came into their winter quarters prepared for hibernation. We also are using telemetry gear and data-loggers to monitor the body temperatures and arousal patterns of hibernating bats, hoping to shed light on how the emergence of WNS may be affecting individuals, hibernating clusters and the wintering colony."

Weekly battery changes are needed to keep the telemetry receivers (data recorders) going. It was during one of these battery changes that Reeder and Turner noticed changes occurring in the Mifflin County hibernating colony. As recently as Dec. 12, there was no change to bats in the mine. Then on Dec. 20, they noticed bats starting to shift toward the mine's entrance and a small amount of fungus on some of them. Bats normally don't hibernate at entrances, so this movement was interpreted as a red flag. On Dec. 29, about 150 of the 2,200 bats in the mine appeared to be affected. By Jan. 5, about 45 percent of the mine's wintering colony had relocated toward the mine's gated entrance.

Reeder and Turner are monitoring three sites in Pennsylvania to record the arousal patterns and body temperatures of hibernating bats. This work, part of a multistate effort funded primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also is being conducted in New York, Vermont, Michigan and Kentucky.

"This research may tell us if bats are arousing too frequently and consequently burning off fat reserves prematurely, or if they're not lowering their body temperature enough to support hibernation," Reeder explained. "It may also show that bats are having difficulty going back into hibernation after being aroused."

The Game Commission will be surveying 20 to 30 hibernacula between January and March as part of annual fieldwork and during those visits will be monitoring for signs of WNS. The agency may add more sites to the scheduled list of caves and mines to ensure good coverage across the state. The agency also will assist researchers who are doing fieldwork instate. This work includes investigating metabolic rate of hibernating bats; studying the immune response capabilities of bats; and measuring whether bats have sufficient amounts and types of fat heading into hibernation.

"This winter and early spring, the Game Commission is asking the public to keep an eye on Pennsylvania's bats," Roe said. "It is unusual to see bats flying outside or around your home in January, February and March. If you see winter-flying bats, if you find multiple dead bats or if you or neighbors repeatedly find dead bats in a particular area, please report the incidents to the nearest Game Commission region office."

For Region Office contact information, as well as a listing of counties each serves, please visit the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us (http://www.pgc.state.pa.us)), and click on "Contact Us" in the left-hand column and scroll down to the region listings.


Auburn Boy
01-24-2009, 12:36 AM
Fungal Clue in Mystery Bat Deaths.

SciAm January 2009

A novel fungus may be devastating bats in the northeastern U.S. In the past two years several species have displayed unusual behavior such as flying during the winter when they should be hibernating. Census counts in Connecticut , Massacheusetts, New York and Vermont have revealed that populations have thinned by at least 75 percent.

A clue has been a white, powdery organism on the muzzles, ears and wings of the dead and dying bats, creating what is called white nose syndrome. In a report published online October 30 in Science, microbiologist David S. Blehert of the U.S. Geological Survey and his colleagues identify the white stuff as a type of Geomyces fungus, one of a group of ubiquitous organisms that reproduce at refrigerator temperatures of four degrees celcius - and a typical bat-cave reading.

Researchers remain unaware of the source ot the fungus or even its exact role in the deaths. The pathogen may attack torpid bats and keep them awake, so that the mammals burn too much of their stored fat - most victims have been rail-thin, and some have been found outside their caves, perhaps after a futile attempt to catch insects to eat in winter. Or the fungus may simply be an opportunistic infection following a more profound sickness sweeping the animals. The researchers plan to study the effect of this fungus on healthy bats in the lab this winter. - Larry Greenemeir

Auburn Boy
02-03-2009, 09:01 PM
White Nose bat killing syndrome spreads in the Northeast.


Bat-killing syndrome spreads in NortheastBy MICHAEL HILL Associated Press Writer
Posted: 02/03/2009 01:26:03 PM PST

Scott Crocoll holds a dead Indiana bat in an abandoned mine in Rosendale,... ((AP Photo/Mike Groll))

ROSENDALE, N.Y.—A mysterious and deadly bat disease discovered just two winters ago in a few New York caves has now spread to at least six northeastern states, and scientists are scrambling to find solutions before it spreads across the country.
White-nose syndrome poses no health threat to people, but some scientists say that if bat populations diminish too much, the insects and crop pests they eat could flourish. Researchers recently identified the fungus that creates the illness' distinctive white smudges on the noses and wings of hibernating bats, but they don't yet know how to stop the disease from killing off caves full of the ecologically important animals.

"The cause for concern is that this is going to race across the country faster than we can come up with a solution," said Alan Hicks, a wildlife biologist with New York state's Department of Environmental Conservation.

"Now that is entirely possible."

Bats with white-nose burn through their fat stores before spring, driving some to rouse early from hibernation in a futile search for food. Many die as they hunt fruitlessly for insects.

White-nose syndrome spread fast last winter to dozens of caves in New York and southern New England, within a roughly 150-mile radius of the caves west of Albany, N.Y., where it was first found. Early observations show it has reached farther still this winter, even before cave inspections and bat counts begin in earnest this month.

Bats with white-nose syndrome were found recently in northern New Jersey's Morris County and in an old iron mine in Shindle, Pa., more than 200 miles away from the outbreak's epicenter. In addition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission on Tuesday said that hundreds of little brown bats, a species devastated by white-nose syndrome, were found dead from the disease outside two mines in the northeastern part of the state.
The disease may have spread as far as 450 miles from the epicenter, to the John Guilday Caves Nature Preserve in West Virginia. The National Speleological Society has temporarily shut down the preserve as a possible white-nose sighting is investigated.

So far, there are 40 confirmed white-nose sites in the Northeast, said Jeremy Coleman, who is tracking the illness for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Cortland, N.Y.

Death tolls for the tiny creatures are hard to pinpoint, but some estimates run into the hundreds of thousands.

The news was grim on a recent day when more than a dozen researchers lowered themselves by rope into a sprawling old limestone mine in New York's Hudson Valley, about 80 miles north of New York City.

Bat counter Ryan von Linden's headlamp swept across isolated clusters of the mammals hanging off the rock ceiling. A chorus of squeaks echoed in the blackness.

"There are not as many as there are supposed to be," von Linden whispered. "Not even close."

With a precise total pending, Hicks estimated the cave's count of Indiana bats, an endangered species, was down 15 to 35 percent from last year's roughly 19,000. Researchers said the number of little brown bats also appeared to be down, although they didn't have enough specifics from prior years to measure the drop exactly.

Hoping to glean more information on the syndrome, the researchers plucked 14 groggy little brown bats from the rock, weighed them, measured them, snipped a bit of their hair and stuck tiny radio transmitters to them to track their activity levels.

Bats' nocturnal habits and some species' ability to carry rabies can give the flying mammals a fearsome image. But they can pollinate plants and play an important role in checking the populations of mosquitoes and insects that can damage wheat, apples and dozens of other crops.

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey's Wildlife Health Center this fall established that the sugary smudges on infected bats are a previously undescribed fungus that thrives in the refrigerator-like cold of winter caves. The center is still working to determine whether the fungus causes the disease, but biologists are already focusing on potential ways to combat the fungus.

Since the fungus grows in the cold and damp, they could try to lower humidity levels in at least some crucial caves, though that could create other problems for those ecosystems.

Researchers also are looking at the possibility of a fungicide or even fungus-killing bacteria that could spread from bat to bat. Ward Stone, New York state's wildlife pathologist, said he has been able to culture bacteria that live on big brown bats and kill the white-nose fungus in a lab.

Tests need to be performed to see whether any of the options are realistic. And time is "our biggest enemy," said David Blehert, head of microbiology at the USGS center in Madison, Wis.

More mosquitos, more WNV, and possibly MALARIA..,

Auburn Boy
03-05-2009, 12:33 PM
Scientists may have an aid in preventing more bat deaths due to the "Shite Nose Syndrome."

This fungal infection has killed a lot of bats in the last three years. Helping the bats survive another winter will give scientists more time to determine the facts, and possible remedies to the problem.


Heaters might stave off doom for bats: researchers
By MICHAEL HILL Associated Press Writer
Posted: 03/05/2009 07:03:17 AM PST

ALBANY, N.Y.—Bats afflicted with a mysterious and deadly disorder might be able to make it through winter with the help of heated boxes placed in hibernation caves, a pair of researchers say.

The biologists stress that the boxes being tested this winter are not intended to cure "white-nose syndrome," which has killed upward of a half million bats in three winters from New England to West Virginia.

But, in an article published online Thursday in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, they suggest the little heated havens could help stricken bats preserve enough precious energy to survive hibernation season.

White-nose syndrome, named for the white smudges of fungus on the noses and wings of hibernating bats, has alarmed scientists by spreading from a few caves in upstate New York two winters ago to at least 55 caves in seven states. White-nose bats appear to starve to death, running through their winter fat stores before spring.

Researchers worry about the fate of bats, which play an important role in controlling the populations of insects that can damage wheat, apples and dozens of other crops.

As scientists try to definitively establish whether the fungus is the cause, as suspected, or a symptom of white nose, researchers Justin Boyles and Craig Willis considered a way to manage it based on computer modeling of the energy expended by bats.

Based on the theory that afflicted bats rouse from hibernation more often than normal
bats and thus burn more fat to stay warm, they suggest that small bat boxes with battery-powered heating coils could create warm refuges for the creatures. "It would be sort of a stopgap measure," said Willis, a biology professor at the University of Winnipeg. Boyles, the lead author, is a graduate student in biology at Indiana State University.

Hibernating bats will seek warmer parts of caves during bouts of activity. The pair will test whether healthy bats will use heated boxes instead during a test in the coming months in a cave in Manitoba, Canada. The pilot study is funded with a $28,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There are potential problems with a mass deployment of heaters that go beyond the logistics and cost. Willis concedes that such an intervention could backfire if white nose is spread from bat to bat in the summer, since it would prolong the survival of infected bats.

But David Blehert, who identified the white-nose fungus as head of microbiology at the U.S. Geological Survey's Wildlife Health Center, said summer spreading is not a concern with this fungus, which needs cold to thrive. Blehert and other researchers said that given the magnitude of the problem, it makes sense to at least test the hypothesis.

"It's not a magic silver bullet," Blehert said, "but it might provide some percentage of bats with a fighting chance to survive hibernation."

Ought Six
06-07-2009, 03:34 AM
Deadly bat disease spreading fast, scientists warn lawmakers (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics/AP/story/1082070.html)

McClatchy Newspapers, via The Miami Herald
Thu, Jun. 04, 2009

A mysterious disease that's killing tens of thousands of bats in the Northeast is spreading so fast that it could reach California within five years, biologists and officials of the Agriculture and Interior departments told lawmakers Thursday.

"Never in my wildest imagination would I have dreamed of anything that could pose this serious a threat to America's bats," Merlin Tuttle, a biologist with Bat Conservation International who's studied the creatures for 50 years, told two House of Representatives subcommittees.

He called the bat-killing disease, which could threaten eight species with extinction, "the most serious threat to American wildlife in the past century."

According to the Agriculture Department, bats eat pests that otherwise would cost farmers up to $1 billion a year in damages.

The disease, called "white-nose syndrome," makes bats awaken from hibernation prematurely and leave their caves. Freezing, unable to find insects to eat, they fall from the sky and die.

About 95 percent of infected bats perish, and the disease appears to spread from bat to bat, infecting entire caves, officials said. The main clue to their deaths is fungus-encrusted noses and wings. Whether the fungus causes their deaths or is merely a symptom of a failing immune symptom is unknown.

To find out, researchers want help from two Natural Resources subcommittees, whose members sounded sympathetic, the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife.

First discovered in 2006 in a cave outside Albany, N.Y., the disease has spread to Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and possibly Canada.

The white fungus appears to thrive in colder caves, so its spread could peter out as it moves farther south and west. However, scientists found bats with white-nose syndrome in southern Virginia this March, and the temperature at which the fungus will die is unknown.

A similar fungus has been found in caves in Europe since the 1980s, the biologists said, but doesn't kill the bats there. European bats, which occasionally cross the Atlantic on air currents, could have introduced the fungus to American bats with different immunities, biologists said. Or an unknown disease could be wreaking havoc with their immune systems, making them vulnerable to a fungus they previously could defend against.

The Department of the Interior so far has spent $5 million studying white-nose syndrome, and it's closed 2,000 caves, said Marvin Moriarty, the Northeast regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"This is the greatest challenge to bat conservation we have ever faced," he said. State and local authorities, as well as private organizations, also have closed caves and pledged money.

Thomas Kunz, a biology professor at Boston University, told lawmakers it would take $10 million to $17 million over five years to combat the disease, but said that number didn't take into account any spreading of the syndrome.

06-07-2009, 04:22 AM
European bats, which occasionally cross the Atlantic on air currents,
Amazing , I had no idea bats could fly that far even if wind assisted.

06-07-2009, 05:11 AM