This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst
In recent weeks, federal scientists have reported that the fungal disease Geomyces destructans, commonly known as white-nose syndrome, has extended its reach across the eastern region of the United States.
On March 29, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced that the disease was reported in Fort Delaware State Park, and reports have also confirmed the disease in Maine’s Acadia National Park, and Alabama’s Russell Cave in Jackson County, the first observations of the disease in these states. The National Park Service also reported that the disease has spread to the Great Smoky Mountain region in Tennessee, home to eleven bat species including the largest hibernating population of the endangered Indiana bat in the state.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), white-nose syndrome has killed 5.7-6.7 million bats in North America since it was first discovered in 2006. The disease is identified by a white fungus visible on the noses, wings, tails and ears of bats. While it is communicable among bats, it has not been found to infect humans. The fungus thrives in cold temperatures and is found mainly in areas with caves and mines where bats hibernate.
The disease has drawn bipartisan concern from Capitol Hill, as insect-eating bats play a vital economic role in cutting pesticide costs to the nation’s farming industry. During a June 2011 House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs hearing on the disease, Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) pointed out that the bats are worth billions the agricultural industry and that 80 different medicines come from plants that are dependent on bats.
The consensus support from Congress has led to increased investment in understanding and managing the disease. For Fiscal Year 2012, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74) provides $4 million to the Department of Interior’s Endangered Species Recovery Fund towards research and management of white-nose syndrome. The Act also contains specific language directing the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and FWS to prioritize research and response activities related to curtailing spread of the disease. Non-governmental organizations such as the Organization for Bat Conservation and Bat Conservation International are also working to conserve bat populations and halt the spread of the disease.
Additional information on federal efforts to manage white-nose syndrome as well as updates on new reports of the disease can be found here.
Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service