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Plan aims to manage white nose syndrome across borders

By Melanie J. Martin - 17 May 2011 22:3:0 GMT
Plan aims to manage white nose syndrome across borders

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released a plan for managing white nose syndrome - a disease devastating bat populations - across state and provincial boundaries. The plan aims to ensure a cohesive response between U.S. states, tribal governments, and Canadian provinces.

The plan provides a framework for investigating and responding to the disease, outlining who is responsible for which activities, and how they will coordinate their efforts. Seven working groups covering areas such as communications, diagnostics, and epidemiological and ecological research will coordinate activities within their designated areas. State-level agencies will share responsibility for monitoring and managing the disease with the help of guidance provided through these working groups, and federal funding.

White nose syndrome has spread to 18 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. Since identified in 2007, the disease has killed over 1 million bats in eastern areas. Though it has primarily devastated eastern regions, it is spreading rapidly west, making environmental groups in western regions increasingly anxious. Many sites like the Oregon Caves National Monument now screen visitors for shoes and clothing worn to areas of potential infection.

White nose syndrome has broad environmental effects, as bat guano is a major source of nutrients in cave ecosystems, and bats play a large role in controlling populations of certain insects including mosquitoes. The disease also has significant economic affects, as insect-eating bats save the government over $3 billion with their pest-eating services, says the FWS.

White nose syndrome seems to cause bats to wake from hibernation and leave the cave, according to the FWS. It may also cause bats to hibernate closer to cave entrances or in far colder temperatures, and is associated with high death rates. Scientists are trying to understand exactly how the disease kills bats. Evidence suggests it may lead to dehydration, flight inhibition, and heat loss, although research has shown skin infection may play a primary role in mortality. The FWS expects management of the disease will continually adapt as new findings become available.

Most of the species affected have long lives (5-15 years) and low reproductive rates (one offspring a year), making recovery difficult, the FWS explains.

The White Nose Syndrome Symposium is currently in session in Little Rock, Arkansas, through May 19, with over 170 experts trying to determine how to best control and cure the disease.

Image: Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine, Vermont. Credit: Marvin Moriarty/USFWS.