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    Post: Holy Fungus Batman

    Posted by Mike B. on 2/01/08

    Unexplained "White Nose" Disease Killing Northeast Bats

    ALBANY, New York, January 31, 2008 (ENS) - State
    environmental officials and caving organizations are asking
    people not to enter caves or mines with bats until further
    notice to avoid the possible transfer of a mysterious new
    bat disease from cave to cave.

    Thousands of hibernating bats are dying in caves in New
    York and Vermont from unknown causes, prompting an
    investigation by the New York State Department of
    Environmental Conservation, DEC, as well as wildlife
    agencies and researchers around the nation.

    The most obvious symptom involved in the die-off is a white
    fungus encircling the noses of some, but not all, of the

    Bat with white nose syndrome (Photo courtesy West Virginia
    Association for Cave Studies)
    Called "white nose syndrome," the fungus is believed to be
    associated with the problem, but it may not contribute to
    the actual cause of death. It appears that the impacted
    bats deplete their fat reserves months before they would
    normally emerge from hibernation, and die as a result.

    "What we've seen so far is unprecedented," said Alan Hicks,
    DEC's bat specialist. "Most bat researchers would agree
    that this is the gravest threat to bats they have ever

    Last year, some 8,000 to 11,000 bats died at several
    locations in New York, the largest die-off of bats due to
    disease documented in North America. This year, an unknown
    number of bats are at risk.

    "We have bat researchers, laboratories and caving groups
    across the country working to understand the cause of the
    problem and ways to contain it," said Hicks. "Until we know
    more, we are asking people to stay away from known bat

    Craig Stihler, a bat specialist with the West Virginia
    Department of Natural Resources, says, "The fungus has been
    identified to the genus Fusarium, a common and widespread
    genus usually associated with plants. Pathologists that
    have examined the carcasses recovered from the New York
    sites do not believe the fungus is the main culprit. One
    guess at this time is that the fungus invades after the
    bats are stressed by some other factor."

    Bat biologists across the country are evaluating strategies
    to monitor the presence of the disease and collect
    specimens for laboratory analysis. Biologists are using
    sanitary clothing and respirators when entering caves to
    avoid spreading the disease in the process.

    "Our primary concern is to limit the disease from spreading
    further to other caves and mines that have larger numbers
    of hibernating bats," said Scott Darling, Vermont state
    wildlife biologist. "Here in Vermont, the disease has been
    documented in Morris Cave in Danby, and we will be checking
    other caves and mines."

    Bat populations are particularly vulnerable during
    hibernation as they congregate in large numbers in caves -
    in clusters of 300 per square foot in some locations -
    making them susceptible to disturbance or disease.

    Because these bats then migrate as far as hundreds of miles
    to their summer range, impacts to hibernating bats can have
    significant implications for bats throughout the Northeast.

    "Bats from a cave in Dorset, Vermont have been documented
    traveling in the spring as far as Rhode Island and Cape
    Cod," says Darling.

    The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of bats
    known to hibernate in New York do so in just five caves and
    mines. Because bats migrate as far as hundreds of miles to
    their summer range, impacts to hibernating bats can have
    significant implications for bats throughout the Northeast.

    Indiana bats, a state and federally endangered species, are
    perhaps the most vulnerable. Half the estimated 52,000
    Indiana bats that hibernate in New York are located in just
    one former mine - a mine that is now infected with white
    nose syndrome.

    Eastern pipistrelle, northern long-eared and little brown
    bats are also dying. Little brown bats, the most common
    hibernating species in the state, have sustained the
    largest number of deaths.

    DEC has been working closely with the Vermont Fish and
    Wildlife Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
    the Northeast Cave Conservancy and the National
    Speleological Society, along with other researchers from
    universities and other government agencies.

    Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights

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