On Sunday, a report from Buffalo’s WGRZ indicated that the bat population in North America has been dwindling significantly. While for many this may come as a bit of a relief, the fact that myriad species of bats may very well be close to extinction is cause for alarm.
Bats have been faced with many threats to their survival including other diseases and the presence of wind turbines, but the effect of a fungal infection called White Nose Syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans), which was first detected by researchers in 2006, has been nearly destroying whole populations of bats. If bat populations are devastated, there will be direct “consequences for agricultural and human health,” related an article some months ago from the New York Times.
White Nose Syndrome affects cave-dwelling bats during hibernation and is difficult to slow, let alone stop. One researcher related that “up to hundreds of thousands of bats [can be hibernating] in a cave, and if this fungus gets a hold of this, it spreads very quickly, you can have virtually no bats left."
The fungus surrounds bats’ noses, wings and bodies with a white substance, interrupts their hibernation patterns (tagged bats have been tracked, leaving their caves in the middle of winter in some cases) which causes them to burn up their fat stores (meant for the long sleep) and starve to death, as they are unable to find food.
Science journalist Russell McLendon with the Mother Nature Network reposted an article at the Huffington Post on Sunday relating that there are hints of hope in the presence of what is now being dubbed a plague in bat populations:
About 6 million American bats have died from white-nose syndrome since its mysterious 2006 debut, and the disease's rapid spread still threatens the survival of some species. But if scientists are right about a few little brown bats in the U.S. Northeast, there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel.
This is good news for the little brown bats but many other species may not be able to recover from this plague as it will take decades for certain bat populations to recuperate from their losses.