An emerging fungal pathogen? New research provides even more evidence that a previously undescribed, cold-loving fungus is associated with white-nose syndrome, a condition linked to the deaths of up to 1,000,000 cave-hibernating bats in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Since the winter of 2006-2007, bat populations plummeted from 80 to 97 percent at surveyed bat-hibernation caves, called hibernacula.
USGS microbiologist Dr. David Blehert and his colleagues identified the fungus last year, and have followed up by trying to determine if the fungus may be responsible for the deaths or if it is simply a side effect of another underlying disease.
The researchers found that 90 percent of all bats they examined from suspected WNS sites had a severe fungal skin infection that did not just occur on the skin, but below it as well. The growth temperature requirements of the fungus are consistent with the core temperatures of cave-hibernating bat species throughout temperate regions of the world.
Given the hundreds of thousands of hibernating bats found throughout the WNS-affected region, as well as the potential for the spread of this disease to other parts of the United States and Canada, white-nose syndrome represents an unprecedented threat to bats of the northeastern United States and potentially beyond.
This research was presented at the 58th annual meeting of the Wildlife Disease Association (WDA) held on August 2-7, 2009, in Blaine, Wash.
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