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New funding supports search for solutions to white-nose syndrome

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa., Aug. 6, 2014 Two U.S. Forest Service research teams recently received more than $97,000 in grants from Bat Conservation International (BCI) and the Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy to further the fight against White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that has killed at least 5.7 million bats in North America in the past 8 years.

"We are very honored that Bat Conservation International selected these projects for grant funding. The grants will further the Forest Service's ongoing work to understand how White Nose Syndrome spreads; the impacts it is having on bat populations; and, the development of leading-edge techniques to inhibit the spread of the fungus." said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. "We have come a long way since we first encountered White-Nose Syndrome, in large part due to the cooperation among many government agencies, universities and non-government organizations."

The two projects are aimed at identifying and developing tools to control Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the invasive fungus that causes WNS. Each explores a different approach to containing the impact of the deadly disease that has affected hibernating bats, including the federally-listed endangered Indiana bat and gray bat. First reported in New York state in 2006, this disease has spread to 25 states and 5 Canadian provinces. Bats are a primary predator of vast numbers of insect pests that cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars annually.

"These research projects are developing potentially powerful tools in the fight against WNS and we are pleased to be able to support them," said Katie Gillies, Director, Imperiled Species Program at Bat Conservation International. "We hope the results from this work are pivotal in controlling the fungus that causes WNS."

Both projects are led by scientists with the Forest Service's Northern Research Station. Sybill Amelon, a research wildlife biologist in Columbia, Mo., seeks to improve survival of bats infected with WNS by using native soil bacteria to produce natural volatiles that inhibit growth of the fungus that causes the disease. The soil bacteria being investigated were discovered by researchers at the Applied and Environmental Microbiology Department at Georgia State University (GSU). Along with her collaborators from GSU, Amelon is testing the effectiveness of this naturally produced treatment to prevent the fungus from invading bat tissue and as a treatment for bats already affected by WNS. Bat Conservation International provided critical funding and support for the early stages of the development of this treatment tool.

Dan Lindner, a research plant pathologist in Madison, Wis., will test the use of "gene silencing," a newly emerging technology that is showing promise as a disease-fighting tool. The insights gained could offer a way to render the fungus harmless. This work is being done in collaboration with Nancy Keller of the University of Wisconsin Madison and Stephen Rehner of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Systematic Mycology and Microbiology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.

The bat treatment studies are scheduled for the 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 hibernation seasons.

A marked decline in bat populations in the eastern United States was documented in a study published last month by Amelon and co-authors Thomas Ingersoll of the University of Tennessee, and Brent Sewall of Temple University. The study found cumulative declines from peak levels were 71 percent for little brown bats, 34 percent for tricolored bat, 30 percent in the federally-listed endangered Indiana bat, and 31 percent for northern long-eared bats.

Contact: Jane Hodgins
USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station

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