White Nose Syndrome: What is OBC doing to Help?

Help OBC fight WNS

Help the Organization for bat conservation battle White Nose Syndrome, donate today!

The Organization for Bat Conservation is dedicated to protecting bats and their habitats. We have dedicated funds to support researching the fungus, providing roosting alternatives, and enhancing communication among researchers, agencies, environmental organizations, and the general public.

OBC donated funds toward an experimental freezer that is being used to study this new cold-loving fungus at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

David S. Blehert from the center presented information at the North American Symposium on Bat Research that confirmed 90% of bats submitted from the WNS-positive sites exhibited the fungal infection. The fungus is a newly described species similar to Geomyces species. Fungal cultures grew optimally between 41 degree Fahrenheit (5 degree Celsius) and 50 degree Fahrenheit (10 degree Celsius).These temperatures are similar to the conditions in caves and mines that bats prefer to hibernate within the WNS-affected region. Blehert reported that the upper growth limit for the fungus is approximately 71 degree Fahrenheit (21 degree Celsius).

OBC donated 6 bat houses toward a joint study by the Indiana State University Center for Bat Research and Conservation and University of Winnipeg.

The researchers want to find out if providing bats with artificial thermal roost boxes within the WNS-affected caves could slow energy expenditure during the periodic arousals and prolong survival. They demonstrated the potential survival benefits using computer simulation and showed that localized thermal bat roosts reduce mortality from over 80% to less than 25%. A test site in Manitoba, Canada that is used by approximately 400 little brown bats was chosen. 6 (six) OBC bat houses were retrofitted with thermal heating elements and installed in 2009. The study will help determine the capability of bats to find and utilize the thermal boxes. The boxes will be tested in WNS-affected caves next winter.

OBC helps fund a project at Arkansas State University by Evan Lacy Pannkuk (ASU Ph.D. student).

The US fish and Wildlife service has produced a draft framework for managing white nose syndrome (WNS) that emphasizes the need for a basic understanding of WNS pathogenesis and host/disease ecology. This information is vital for researchers to develop a control mechanism that may stop further devastation from WNS. In order for a fungus to be pathogenic it must first attach to a host and obtain sufficient nutrients to grow. Our study will directly address these goals by monitoring optimal growth conditions of G. destructans, the fungus that causes WNS, and we will further determine how bats provide essential nutrients for fungal growth in delicate cave ecosystems. Knowledge on the lipid types present on bat hair will help determine how the fungus attaches to the hair and shed light on how the fungus breaks down bat tissues and feeds itself. Preliminary data already suggest that G. destructans (and its close relative G. pannorum) possess protein and lipid eating enzymes. This project will measure rates of digestion of proteins on bats by WNS. Arkansas State University has supplied lab space and equipment. The end product of the research conducted at Arkansas State will be a thorough understanding of how G. destructans is able to attach and grow on bats. If necessary biomolecules of the fungus can be blocked providing tools to slow or stop the spread of WNS is an exciting possibility. 

In addition to funding research, OBC is sponsoring, participating in, and helping to organize local, state, and regional information-sharing meetings. These include the Michigan Bat Working Group, Midwest Bat Working Group, and bats and mines conference. 
Environmental impacts
Bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects. They eat large numbers of moths and beetles. Insect-eating bats are crucial to a healthy ecosystem. Large numbers of bats dying could mean that the natural balance would be thrown off for many years to come. 
© 2012 Organization for Bat Conservation