Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Fungus to Blame for Bat Casualties

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

Fungus to blame for bat casualties

The disease known as white – nose syndrome (WNS) has been ripping through North America killing vast numbers of bats. Scientists have recently discovered it is likely to be caused by a fungus.
These findings were obtained from experiments conducted by researchers from a number of US institutions. They found that bats infected with the fungus Geomyces destructans not only developed WNS, but also had the ability to pass this disease from one bat to another through physical interactions. Thankfully, other experiments by researchers revealed that the fungus spores are unable to be spread through airborne transmission.
The behavior of bats in the wild appears to make the transmission of the fungus highly effective. They tend to congregate in vast groups outside caves where they hibernate. Individuals in these groups will literally rub shoulders with each other, members of different species and bats from other caves. G. destructans tends to be found on the snouts of bats where it causes lesions on the skin, characteristically in a white colouration.  
Consequently, researchers suggest that WNS “has the potential to decimate North American bat populations”. First identified in 2006, WNS has been the cause of over one million bat deaths and more is expected in the future.
Unfortunately for bats there is no cure at the moment that could prevent the spread of the disease. However, there are measures that could be employed to reduce its transmission such as the closure of caves. This may help to stop humans from transporting spores to other unaffected areas but it would not stop bat populations form intermingling.
Other possible solutions would be to change the environmental conditions of bat caves, so as to slow the fungal spread but leave it habitable for bats and other wildlife. It has been shown that G. destructans favours low temperatures and particular levels of humidity. Therefore, altering those conditions may slow fungal growth.  
Fortunately some species of bat appear to be immune or resistant to G. destructans such as the North American gray bat and the Virginia big – eared bat. Scientists are aiming to conduct further studies in order to understand why these species are resistant and whether their natural immunity can be turned into a defence for vulnerable species.
The hope is that a successful solution to the disease can be found before the fungus spreads further and species of bat are pushed towards extinction.
By Anthony Kubale 

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