Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another Installment in... Our Dying Planet: Something is killing our bats

Last year, some 8,000 to 11,000 bats died in several Albany, N.Y.—area cave hibernacula, more than half the wintering bat population in those caves. Many of the dead bats had a white fungus. This year, biologists are seeing the white fungus on bats hibernating in New York, southwest Vermont, northwest Connecticut and western Massachusetts.

At least one of the affected species, the Indiana bat, is protected by the Endangered Species Act. Little brown bats are sustaining the largest number of deaths, as well as northern long-eared, eastern pipistrelle, small-footed and other bat species using the same caves.

Bats with this white–nose syndrome have the white fungus on their noses and occasionally other parts of their bodies. It is unknown if the fungus is causing the deaths or is symptomatic of a disease. Human health implications are not known; there is no information indicating that people have been affected after exposure to the white fungus.

The states of New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts are investigating the geographical extent of the outbreak, revisiting sites to determine the amount of mortality, and providing bat specimens to laboratories throughout the United States for analysis to help determine the cause of bat deaths. The bat conservation community is concerned and involved in exploring the possible cause of the disease and raising funds to assist in the research. National and regional caving organizations are coordinating with state biologists to help assess the situation, providing the most current information to the caving community regarding advisories, and documenting cave visitations to determine if cavers could be spreading the cause of the outbreak.

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