White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a poorly understood condition that, in the two years since its discovery, has spread to at least seven northeastern states and killed as many as half a million bats. Now researchers have suggested the first step toward a measure that may help save the affected bats: providing localized heat sources to the hibernating animals.
"We have no idea why it's spreading so rapidly," says Justin Boyles, a graduate student in biology at Indiana State University and the first author of the paper, published this week in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment e-View.
The syndrome has baffled scientists since its discovery in the winter of 2006 in upstate New York, where hibernating bats were found with a mysterious white fungus growing on their faces and wing membranes. Hundreds of emaciated bats were found dead in and around their caves, suggesting that they had starved to death during their hibernating months, and affected populations commonly suffer 75 to 100 percent mortality.
The origins of WNS are virtually unknown scientists just identified the fungus species last month. But they are still mystified by its relationship to such unprecedented bat mortality.
Boyles and his coauthor Craig Willis of the University of Winnipeg tested the idea, suspected by many in the bat research community, that the fungus causes bats to spend more time out of hibernation during the winter. Mammals must rouse from hibernation periodically, but doing so too often or for long periods of time is energetically costly. When they rouse, the bats must use body energy to keep warm; spending too much time out of hibernation may deplete their fat reserves and cause them to starve to death, say the authors.
Because of the rapid spread of the fungus and the fact that field experiments can take months to years to complete, Boyles and Willis instead created a mathematical simulation to test the idea that the fungu
|Contact: Christine Buckley|
Ecological Society of America