White nose syndrome highlights need for sustained investment in research
Oct31

White nose syndrome highlights need for sustained investment in research

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...

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Efforts to mitigate white-nose syndrome continue amid new reports

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...

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From the Community: December Edition

The following links highlight ecology from the month of December, but there are several science-related end-of-year lists floating around as well.

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From the Community: healthy green spaces, beak deformities and ocean acidification

National Geographic launches the new series Great Migrations, New Scientist outlines the multiple benefits of spending time in park and other green spaces, scientists explore the physics of cat lapping, Brandon Keim from Wired Science joins researchers in an abandoned mine to test bats for White Nose Syndrome and the United States Geological Survey seeks help from bird watchers to track a recent spike in beak deformities. Here is the latest research in ecological science.

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