Mylea Bayless: It’s causing massive amounts of disturbing mortality – upwards of 95 to 100 percent at some hibernation sites.
Biologist Mylea Bayless is talking about bats and about a fungus that’s affecting them. It’s called white nose syndrome. Mylea is with Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas, which has the largest urban bat colony in the U.S. She said white nose syndrome has killed thousands of bats in the northeastern U.S. over the past several years.
Mylea Bayless:: If you talk to people in New York, they don’t see bats in their streetlights anymore.
And now, she said, the fungus is expected to spread to the American South.
Mylea Bayless: We don’t really have any good idea to stop it or slow the spread. You can’t really apply a broad-scale fungicide to a cave ecosystem because you’ll completely destroy all the processes that occur in the cave.
She said bats might face extinction due to this fungus. Meanwhile, she said, funds for studying the fungus and stopping it are limited.
Mylea Bayless: We really can’t move forward with the limited resources the state and federal agencies have.
She said the situation is important because bats eat insects over agricultural fields. A decline of bats could adversely affect agriculture.
Mylea Bayless: Anytime you take a top predator out of the ecosystem and a top predator that is a primary consumer of insect pests, we’re probably going to see those impacts in agriculture.
Bat experts have estimated they’ll need over $10 million to coordinate a national white nose syndrome research program. Bayless said they are hoping emergency U.S. Federal funding. She spoke of the mechanics of bat decline due to white nose syndrome:
Mylea Bayless: Bats are starving in hibernation but we don’t understand clearly whether the fungus is the root cause of the mortality or whether it’s a secondary mechanism taking advantage of the opportunity and then growing on the bats.
On June 4, 2009 there was a U.S. Congressional hearing about the bat epidemic.
Mylea Bayless: The U.S. Congress and Senate both had hearings investigating the cause and possible effects of white nose syndrome and there was a lot of discussion about what the cost would be for a federal response. And when you put together a coordinated broad federal response to an emerging pathogen it can be very costly because you are coordinating multiple federal agencies and multiple state agencies and there are so many things involved from surveillance and monitoring to mitigating the effects of the disease, and implementing actions to try to slow the spread. They aren’t simple answers.
She concluded with the effects she expects to see shortly.
Mylea Bayless: Along with population declines in bats will come other kinds of ecological consequences in insect abundance and crop damage, and we’ll see very shortly an economic problem as well.
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.