Jeff Lorch, Research Assistant
Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Fungus threatens bat population
3:11 – Total Time
0:20 – What White Nose Syndrome is
0:39 – Fungus affecting bats
1:29 – What happens to affected bats
1:40 – Importance of disease discovery
2:04 – Future of the disease in bats
2:37 – Origins of White Nose syndrome
3:00 – Lead out
Wisconsin bats are fungus free at this point. We’re visiting with Jeff Lorch, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin and I’m Sevie Kenyon.
Sevie: Jeff, welcome to our microphone. Our bats are being attacked by some kind of disease. Can you tell us what it is?
Jeff: The disease is called White Nose Syndrome. It was first discovered in the United States in 2007 in upstate-New York and since that time it’s caused unprecedented mortality in these bats that hibernate in caves. It’s been estimated that over a million bats have died, thus far.
Sevie: Can you tell me what White Nosed Syndrome is?
Jeff: When these bats were dying, really the only commonality they noticed amongst all these sick and dying bats was that they had fungus growing on their skin and it was subsequently determined that this fungus was a species that wasn’t previously known to science and it was named Geomyces Destructans. Even though that fungus seems to appear on these bats that are sick there was some controversy. Many scientists thought there was something else wrong with these bats and that the fungus was just another symptom, rather than the cause.
Sevie: And what did your study unravel here?
Jeff: And what we found was that every single bat that we infected with the fungus came down with the disease so it proved that it was indeed, the causative agent.
Sevie: What does this disease do to the bat?
Jeff: You see this white, fungal growth on the muzzle? It causes these lesions in the skin and it’s thought that the fungus causes them to wake up from hibernation more frequently and therefore they burn through their fat reserves and sort of succumb to starvation.
Sevie: Having identified the fungus, why is that so important?
Jeff: If you think about diseases in general, you have three important components: you have a host, a pathogen and the environment. And if you don’t have those three, key pieces then it’s difficult to find areas in which you can intervene to sort of prevent that disease from having large impacts on populations.
Sevie: Jeff, I’d like you to speculate a little bit. From here, where does it go?
Jeff: I don’t know that there’s really anything that is going to stop it from going as far as the west coast. Nobody has really looked at the exact environmental parameters that the fungus needs to survive. And so, as you go further west and you different species of bats, you have different hosts, you have different environments. There’s potential that it won’t continue to spread, but from what we’ve seen so far, the spread has been rapid and it doesn’t look like it’s really stopping at any point.
Sevie: Jeff, do you have any clue as to where this disease came from?
Jeff: Recently, the causative agent of White Nose Syndrome was found on bats in Europe and there’s no evidence that the population of bats are affected there by the fungus. So there does appear to be some level of resistance in those bats. Maybe Geomyces Destructans was brought to the United States accidentally, into a naïve population that is very susceptible to the disease.
Sevie: We’ve been visiting with Jeff Lorch, department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin and I’m Sevie Kenyon.