Bat-killing Disease Will Wipe Out Indiana Bats in Much of Current Range

04/28/2013 09:02

A new scientific study predicts that the beleaguered Indiana bat, an endangered species hit hard by a new deadly disease called white-nose syndrome, will virtually disappear within about 10 years from large portions of its range.

Lacrosse, WI - infoZine - The U.S. Geological Survey study forecasts that more than 90 percent of the total Indiana bat population, which ranges from New England to the Ozarks with its stronghold in the Midwest, will be exposed to the fungal disease within the next two decades.

If the species can develop immunity to the disease, which has not yet been documented for Indiana bats, there eventually may be recovery in more northern parts of the original range. However, other areas may lose Indiana bats permanently.

“While it’s been clear for a long time that white-nose syndrome is a disaster for North American bats, these findings paint a stark picture of a species heading directly for the abyss,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to save Indiana bats, and indeed bat species around the country, we need to be moving aggressively toward stemming the spread of this deadly disease.”

White-nose syndrome, which can wipe out more than 90 percent of affected bats in a cave, was found for the first time this winter in Illinois, South Carolina and Georgia. The disease was discovered west of the Mississippi River for the first time last winter, in Missouri.

Biologists first documented white-nose syndrome in a bat cave in upstate New York in 2006. It has since spread to a total of 22 states and five Canadian provinces, and has killed nearly 7 million bats. The disease has affected seven species thus far, and as it continues to spread across the continent, scientists fear it will threaten additional species that have not yet come in contact with the disease. Researchers believe the fungus that causes the bat illness came from European caves, probably brought to North America on the boots or gear of cave visitors, but European bat species appear to suffer no ill effects from the fungus.

Scientists studying the decline of Indiana bats theorize that climate change may be a limiting factor in the species’ eventual recovery, if it does happen, as once-suitable habitats will change under warmer climatic regimes. Other threats to bats, such as wind energy and land-use change, could also act synergistically to increase the risk of extinction.

In response to the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome on several hibernating bat species, the Center for Biological Diversity in 2010 petitioned to protect three bat species under the Endangered Species Act, in 2010. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will render listing decisions on the northern long-eared bat, the eastern small-footed bat and the little brown bat by the end of this year.

The loss of bats is expected to hurt people as well as the natural communities where bats occur. Scientists estimate that bats provide about $22 billion in free pest-control services to American farmers every year. Without bats to keep insect pests such as moths and beetles in check, farmers may suffer higher crop losses or choose to use more pesticides on their crops.  Infozine

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