Quickly glancing at the photo one may think how cute the bat is with it’s white little nose, but what some don’t know is that nose is extremely deadly. It is called White Nose Syndrome and it is a disease found in bats that is caused by the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans.
White Nose Syndrome first emerged in the United States in 2006 where it was brought over from Europe. Since its emergence it has killed 6 million bats and counting. It is distinguished by whitening on the nose and the wings. The fungus alone does not cause mortality, but it causes bats to awake earlier from hibernation during the winter. Since bats are not meant to be awake do to temperature and resources, they end up dying by freezing or starvation. With a mortality rate of almost 100% many species of bats in Northern American are at risk.
Researchers though have hope for survival. In 2015, researchers conducted a study comparing the disease dynamics of White Nose Syndrome in bats from different species in Asia and North America. This comparison was done because the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, originates from within Asia as well as Europe. By comparing bats from similar temperatures and environments they found that Asian bats were unaffected by the fungus unlike bats from North America. More importantly the percentage of bats infected and the load of infection was significantly lower in Asian bats. The researchers concluded this is due to Asian bats evolving genetically to have a resistance to the fungus. This resistance was confirmed in previous research of European bats as well. Due to this, researchers hope that eventually Northern American bats will be able to evolve a resistance towards the fungus.
Hope for resistance though may not come fast enough. As seen in the figure to the left, the spread of the disease across the United States is continuously moving to the west. More significantly the disease has been made its way to the west coast in Washington State, which could result in more cases on the west coast in the next following year.
Even though efforts have been instilled to constrain the disease by closing caves to hikers and by making people aware, its spread has not been prevented. Without a cure and the time involved in genetics for bats to evolve a resistance, many species of North American bats are threatened to go extinct unless something is done. Researchers now hope to look into the genetics behind the resistance to hopefully find the mechanism used in bats in Asia and Europe to further learn how to help North American bats.
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To go to the original research article click here.
For more information on White Nose Syndrome click here.