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White-Nose Syndrome (WNS)
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emergent disease of hibernating bats that has spread from the northeastern to the central United States at an alarming rate. Since the winter of 2007-2008, millions of insect-eating bats in 25 states and five Canadian provinces have died from this devastating disease. ...The disease is named for the white fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that infects skin of the muzzle, ears, and wings of hibernating bats. In April 2014, WNS was confirmed in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Current estimates of bat population declines in the northeastern US since the emergence of WNS are approximately 80%. This sudden and widespread mortality associated with WNS is unprecedented in hibernating bats, among which disease outbreaks have not been previously documented. It is unlikely that species of bats affected by WNS will recover quickly because most are long-lived and have only a single pup per year. Consequently, even in the absence of disease, bat populations do not fluctuate widely in numbers over time.
The true ecological consequences of large-scale population reductions currently under way among hibernating bats are not yet known. However, farmers might feel the impact. In temperate regions, bats are primary consumers of insects, and a recent economic analysis indicated that insect suppression services (ecosystem services) provided by bats to U.S. agriculture is valued between 4 to 50 billion dollars per year.
Although much of the public and some policy-makers may view the precipitous decline of bats in North America as only of academic interest, the economic consequences of losing so many bats could be substantial. For example, a single colony of 150 big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) in Indiana has been estimated to eat nearly 1.3 million pest insects each year, possibly contributing to the disruption of population cycles of agricultural pests. Other estimates suggest that a single little brown bat can consume 4 to 8 g of insects each night during the active season, and when extrapolated to the one million bats estimated to have died from WNS, between 660 and 1320 metric tons of insects are no longer being consumed each year in WNS-affected areas.
If we assume values at the extremes of the probable range, the value of bats may be as low as $3.7 billion/year and as high as $53 billion/year. These estimates include the reduced costs of pesticide applications that are not needed to suppress the insects consumed by bats. However, they do not include the "downstream" impacts of pesticides on ecosystems, which can be substantial, or other secondary effects of predation, such as reducing the potential for evolved resistance of insects to pesticides and genetically modified crops. Moreover, bats can exert top-down suppression of forest insects, but our estimated values do not include the benefit of bats that suppress insects in forest ecosystems because economic data on pest-control services provided by bats in forests are lacking. Even if our estimates are halved or quartered, they clearly show how bats have enormous potential to influence the economics of agriculture and forestry.
An estimated 6.7 million bats have died since 2006 because of an outbreak of white-nose syndrome, a fast-moving disease that has wiped out entire colonies and left caves littered with the bones of dead bats. The epidemic is considered the worst wildlife disease outbreak in North American history and shows no signs of slowing down. It threatens to drive some bats extinct and could do real harm to the pest-killing services that bats provide, worth billions of dollars each year, in the United States.
Typically, the disease kills 70 percent to 90 percent of bats in an affected hibernaculum (the area where bats gather to hibernate for the winter). In some cases, the mortality rate has been 100 percent, wiping out entire colonies. Some caves that once hosted hundreds of thousands of bats are now virtually empty.
originally posted by: pl3bscheese
This isn't an ELE. There's plenty of species that die out each year. Our footprint has caused this to rise through the last many centuries, but this isn't an indication of a rapid rate in biolife declining from this fungus. It's just one species directly effected. The indirect effects are likely more complex than we can gather right now, but I don't think it's close to a real ELE.
You could say, perhaps, that we're in the beginning of the 6th mass extinction, and this white nose fungus is part of it. I'm more concerned about the 40% decline of phytoplankton over the second half of the 20th century. That's the base of the marine food chain and the source of over half of oxygen on the planet.
Regardless, S + F. This is massive enough for a lot more attention, and as you say, it's actually dying out (pun intended) as we "progress" through time.
Is there a cure?
No, but researchers are learning more about how the disease kills bats, which is an important step toward developing an effective treatment. Also, European bats appear to be immune to the fungus, and finding out why could provide vital clues to a cure for North American bats.
Is the federal government doing enough about this wildlife crisis?
No. The response to white-nose syndrome has been slow, and the resources for research and management have been scarce. While important scientific study is happening, much more is needed. Meanwhile, most federal land agencies in the western United States have still not implemented widespread emergency cave closures or decontamination requirements, and some are even back-tracking on earlier measures to reduce the risk of human transport of the deadly fungus.