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Disease kills 6 million bats in North America

In just six years around six million bats have succumbed to white-nose syndrome in North America, according to U.S. federal researchers. The number, somewhere between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats, is far higher than past estimates of over a million. Showing up in 2006 in New York, the perplexing disease, which appears as white dust on bats’ muzzles, wipes out populations while they hibernate.

“This startling new information illustrates the severity of the threat that white nose syndrome poses for bats, as well as the scope of the problem facing our nation. Bats provide tremendous value to the U.S. economy as natural pest control for American farms and forests every year, while playing an essential role in helping to control insects that can spread disease to people,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) director Dan Ashe in a statement.

Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine, Vermont, March 26, 2009. Photo by: Marvin Moriarty/USFWS.
Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine, Vermont, March 26, 2009. Photo by: Marvin Moriarty/USFWS.

A recent study in Science found that by eating billions of insects bats were worth billions of dullars to agriculture in the U.S.: likely between $3.7 to $53 billion a year. To date the disease has been found in 16 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces

Bat mortalities may be even worse than reported. USFWS’s white nose coordinator, Jeremy Coleman, called the startling figures “conservative.”

White-nosed syndrome is caused by the aptly named fungus, Geomyces destructans. The diesaes, which is likely passed from individual to individual by touch, leads bats to starve to death during hibernation.

“This number confirms what people working on white-nose syndrome have known for a long time—that bats are dying in frighteningly huge numbers and several species are hurtling toward the black hole of extinction,” said Mollie Matteson with the conservation NGO Center for Biological Diversity. “We have to move fast if we’re going to avoid a complete catastrophe for America’s bats.”

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Bat-killing culprit identified by scientists

(10/31/2011) First identified in 2005, white-nose syndrome has killed over a million bats in the US, pushing once common species to the edge of collapse and imperiling already-endangered species. Striking when bats hibernate, the disease leaves a white dust on the bat’s muzzle, causing them to starve to death. Long believed to be caused by a fungus in the genus Geomyces, researchers publishing in Nature have confirmed that the disease is produced by the species, Geomyces destructans.

Bats worth billions

(04/03/2011) US agriculture stands to lose billions in free ecosystem services from the often-feared and rarely respected humble bat. According to a recent study in Science bats in North America provide the US agricultural industry at least $3.7 billion and up to a staggering $53 billion a year by eating mounds of potentially pesky insects. Yet these bats, and their economic services, are under threat by a perplexing disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) and to a lesser extent wind turbines.

‘Stopgap’ to preserve US bats from devastating fungus

(03/05/2009) Half a million bats have succumbed to a mysterious fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome in two years. Found in seven states in the northeastern US, this syndrome has left biologists baffled since first discovered in 2006. While researchers are still trying to uncover the relationship of the syndrome to the bats, a recent study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment e-View suggests a way to mitigate the syndrome devastating affect. Employing a mathematical simulation the researchers found that using localized heat sources on hibernating bats may preserve populations while a long-term solution is found.

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