As researchers learn more about Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans, the fungus that causes White Nose syndrome in bats, more becomes known about what makes this disease so resilient and seemingly invincible. Various estimates put the bat death toll in the United States in the vicinity of about six million bats since it was first discovered seven years ago. The fungus infects bats during their winter hibernation months when their body temperatures drop below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). While it is unknown precisely what causes death in the bats, the virus seems to wake the bats amid their hibernation in the middle of winter, when fruit and insects are scarce. In addition to the damaged skin and tell-tale fungus covered white nose, researchers have found the dead bats with empty stomachs, which suggests that they starve to death. A recent study from the University of Illinois aimed at understanding the biology of the White nose syndrome fungus pinpoints the tenacious adaptability of the disease. The study, spearheaded by graduate student Daniel Raudabaugh, found that the fungus can survive a wide range of pH, with the exception of extremely acidic substances, which would be difficult to introduce into a natural environment without contaminating habitat and other life forms. Other than its vulnerability to warm temperatures, the only other weakness reported in the organism is its low ability to take in water from surfaces. The fungus compensates for this weakness, however, with an ability to absorb water from the degraded fats and free fatty acids found in the skin of living and dead animals. But there are signs of hope in the quest to eradicate the disease. This summer, graduate student Chris Cornelison, a microbiologist with Georgia State University, highlighted a study he is working on in conjunction with several research teams that may have discovered a natural bacterium (Rhodococcus rhodochrous strain DAP96253) that could inhibit the fungus without damaging the bats or the caves they inhabit. While early test results have shown promise, Cornelison asserts further study is needed to properly assess potential impacts on the cave ecosystems and the bats themselves. Additionally, scientists with the US Forest Service, in a recent study, identified a close fungal relative to White Nose Syndrome that may help researchers to better genetically map the fungus and better understand how it functions. Another bright spot: recognition of the need to combat White nose syndrome is among the few issues Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree on. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) has noted that bats are worth billions to the agriculture industry due to...
Government shutdown ends, water bill action, FWS proposes cuckoo E.S.A. listing, rejects petrel.
Research on hold in government shutdown, farm bill (in)action, EPA cleared in email scandal, climate skeptics denied
WILDLIFE: letter of support for conservation programs
UNITED NATIONS: IPCC report released
HOUSE: testimony on climate action plan
EPA: new carbon standards for powerplants
SCIENCE: Golden Goose awards
Growing fiscal constraints as well as a growing distrust of science among some factions of the conservative movement have made it harder to reach the bipartisan consensus on science issues that existed in days of yore. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee, once a sanctuary from political sparring, has now fallen into the soap opera-style partisan rivalries more commonplace in committees with jurisdiction over hot button issues related to social or fiscal policy. Earlier this month, the House was scheduled to take up H.R. 1891, the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013, which would allow the president to appoint a Science Laureate of the United States to encourage young people to pursue careers in science. Despite the Republican chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee being an enthusiastic lead cosponsor, the bill was pulled by House leaders over concern from conservative groups that President Obama would appoint an individual who would promote a partisan agenda related to climate change. Issues related to science were not always so polarizing. As late as the past decade, substantive legislation to authorize funding for scientific research was signed by a Republican president after passing a Republican Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. In 2002, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act passed a Republican-controlled House with a lopsided 397-25 vote, was met with swift passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate by unanimous consent and was signed by Republican President George W. Bush. More recently, the initial America COMPETES Act passed the then-Democratic-controlled House with bipartisan support from leaders of both parties by a 367-57 vote margin in 2007 and was also signed by President Bush. In stark contrast, the America COMPETES Reauthorization bill, passed just three years later, passed the Senate by unanimous consent, but was opposed by a majority of House Republicans (16 supported, 130 opposed). When Republicans garnered control of the House after the Nov. 2010 mid-terms, buttressed by (and now arguably reliant upon) political support of the tea party movement, there have been marked increases in legislative attempts to curtail scientific processes. There have been increasing legislative attempts to unilaterally delist various species from protection under the Endangered Species Act without traditional scientific input, additional requirements placed upon the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) merit review process and even a successful effort to at least temporarily limit NSF’s ability to fund political science research. It should be noted that while the latter was pushed by a Republican Senator, there was not sufficient vocal opposition from either of the major political parties to prevent the provision from being signed into law. In the most recent edition of The Ecologist...