There’s a reason they named it Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd); this fungus known as White-Nose Syndrome is responsible for killing more than 5.7 million bats in the eastern U. S. and Canada in the past decade.
But there is hope in the fight against this cold-loving, bat-killing fungus. In 2015, scientists released 75 bats that had been successfully treated for White-Nose Syndrome back into the wild. While they are cautiously optimistic, this is the first time bats have been treated and released and expected to survive.
Researchers at Georgia State University were looking at the common bacterium Rhodococcus rhodochrous because it interferes with the ripening of fruit, therefore a profitable enterprise that would help companies transporting fruits thousands of miles to supermarkets in a race against time. But they also found that this bacterium inhibits the growth of fungus. A graduate student made the connection, and you can read the full story here.
As of 2016, scientists are still figuring out how to make this a more effective treatment, as it only inhibits fungus growth and as of now, each bat has to be treated individually. They will next be attempting to treat bats in the field, and perhaps whole caves could be treated someday soon. For bat conservationists, these possibilities provide a ray of hope in what was considered an untreatable epidemic.
Fittingly in time for Halloween, this week is Bat Week! Supported by whitenosesyndrome.org, Bat Week raises awareness of what citizens can do to help bat conservation. One lesser known impediment to bat survival is invasive plants, which reduce insect counts that are vital to their health and survival. Similar to the pollinator movement, pulling invasives and planting native species of plants helps bats as well.
Funding continues to be awarded to study and fight White-Nose Syndrome, with significant support from groups including Bat Conservation International and the Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy as of this August.
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.