THURSDAY, Aug. 5 (HealthDay News) -- An infectious disease
spreading across the northeastern United States has killed millions
of bats over the last four years and may lead to the regional
extinction of a once-common bat species called the little brown
myotis, say researchers.
The deadly infection known as white-nose syndrome, which affects
hibernating bats, was first discovered near Albany, N.Y. in 2006. A
fungus implicated in white-nose syndrome grows on the nose, ears
and forearms of hibernating bats and disrupts their hibernation,
causing them to awake early, behave strangely and lose vital fat
reserves, leading to death, according to a study from the
University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC).
Lead author Winifred F. Frick of UCSC and her colleagues
analyzed bat population data gathered over the past 30 years from
22 caves and other hibernating sites in five northeastern states.
Compared with population counts before 2006, the decreases in the
number of bats counted at the sites since then range from 30
percent to 99 percent.
White-nose syndrome affects seven bat species but poses the
greatest threat to the little brown myotis, previously one of the
most common bat species in North America. If the current trend
continues, there's "a 99 percent chance of regional extinction of
little brown myotis within the next 16 years," the researchers
The study findings are published in the Aug. 6 issue of the
Researchers and conservation experts are working hard to find a
solution to this serious problem, said Frick in a UCSC news
release. "Bats perform valuable ecosystem services that matter for
both the environments they live in and have tangible benefits to
humans as well. Bats affected by this disease are all insect-eating
species, and an individual bat can consume their body weight in
insects every night, including some consumption of pest insects,"
"The loss of so many bats is basically a terrible experiment in how much these animals matter for insect control," she added.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has more about