Unprecedented Wildlife Crisis: Frogs, Bees, Bats, Is There a Connection?

Frogs, Bees, Bats are all in desperate trouble and scientists are scrambling to find out why, so far to little avail.

Could there be a connection between the diseases that seem to be rapidly killing off the animals we depend on to pollinate our foods and protect us from insect invasions?

Since 2006, over a million little brown bats have died from an epidemic fungal disease known as White Nose Syndrome. This most common bat, as well as bats that were already endangered, needs emergency national action to save it from extinction. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called White Nose the "most precipitous decline of North American wildlife in recorded history."

Still, the federal government has been painfully slow to take precautionary steps like cave closures to keep humans from spreading the disease.

Last week, the Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a long awaited national management plan to address the threat posed to bat populations by White Nose Syndrome.

White Nose Syndrome

White Nose Syndrome was first detected in brown bats in upstate New York. Since then, the fungus has decimated its population throughout NY and has moved into 18 other states and four Canadian provinces. This week it was found in Maine for the first time. It typically kills 70-90% of the bats in a colony; sometimes mortality rates reach 100%. 

Bats affected by the fungus have a "white nose." During the winter, they wake up prematurely from hibernation, and can be seen flying erratically outside caves desperately seeking food. Since there are few insects around in the winter, they exhaust their fat reserves and die from starvation or the cold. 

In NY, biologists have found evidence of the fungus in all corners of the state and in each of the 32 hibernation caves they checked, according to last week’s survey by the NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

The Graphite Mine in the Adirondacks, for example, once New York’s largest bat hibernation site, now has just 2000 bats, down from 185,000. Another bat species in the mine, the tri-colored bat, is down to a single bat.

Management Plan Inadequate

A recent scientific paper on bats’ economic value to agriculture estimates that bats’ nontoxic pest-control services range from  $3.7 billion to $53 billion a year.

The Department of Interior (DOI) says the plan provides for a coordinated national management strategy for investigating the cause of the syndrome and finding a means to prevent the spread of the disease. DOI says it has invested over $10.8 million since 2007, including $3 million in research funding.

Researchers working with the U.S. Geological Survey have identified Geomyces destructans – a fungus new to science – as the presumed causative agent. 

Researchers have also developed decontamination protocols to reduce transmission of the fungus, which spreads from bat to bat, surveillance strategies, and White Nose Syndrome diagnostic procedures.

The seven elements of the national plan are:

A. Communications
B. Data and Technical Information Management
C. Diagnostics
D. Disease Management
E. Epidemiological and Ecological Research
F. Disease Surveillance
G. Conservation and Recovery

Unfortunately, it lacks specific guidance on how state and federal agencies should respond to the unprecedented wildlife crisis, and it doesn’t provide any estimate on the amount of money or staff that will be needed, says the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been pushing for a plan since the problem started.

Last year, the Center petitioned federal land managers to block nonessential human access to caves and abandoned mines across the lower 48 states in the hopes of stemming the spread of the disease.

The fungus spreads from bat to bat, but scientists also believe it can spread on shoes, clothes and climbing equipment when people go from one cave to another. While there have been widespread cave closures in eastern states, land managers in the West have yet to take similar, large-scale steps.

The Center has also called for dramatic increases in federal funding to research the cause of, and possible cures for, the disease; it has petitioned the government to provide federal protections for some of the most vulnerable bat species.

They continue to urge the government to immediately close all caves and mines, with entry allowed by permit only for critical activities such as research on bats and white-nose syndrome and human safety issues. They should be closed until more is known about white-nose syndrome and its mode of transmission or until an effective treatment is found.

The public comment period closes May 28. Send an email to advocate for cave closure here.

This week, 12 conservation, organic agriculture, anti-pesticide and other groups formally notified the Obama administration they will take legal action in 30 days if federal agencies do not act to immediately close caves and take other emergency steps on federal lands to protect bats from the epidemic.

Connection With Bees, Frogs

White Nose Syndrome in bats is all too similar to that of colony collapse disorder in bees – the mysterious malady that causes honeybees to inexplicably flee their hives.

And the first report of White Nose Syndrome came in late 2006 and early 2007, around the same time the world was learning about colony collapse disorder. 

Beekeepers have bemoaned the slow pace of research and government action to find out and hopefully stop the cause of colony collapse disorder. 

Frogs are suffering from a similarly mysterious fungus that is working its way across the world. And scientists have struggled to find enough money to study it and hold out little hope of slowing its spread.

The fact that entire categories of organisms are suffering precipitous decline – all bees, bats and frogs – is disturbing, indeed.

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Read the government’s Bats National Plan:

Learn more about bats and white-nose syndrome:

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Comments on “Unprecedented Wildlife Crisis: Frogs, Bees, Bats, Is There a Connection?”

  1. Martel

    The connection between the bees and the bats is man. There are 2 chemicals on the market, both produced by the same company, which were used initially in the US just prior to the colony collapse of both species.

    the first which is killing the bees was approved for use by the EPA. see link below.

    http://www.naturalnews.com/030921_EPA_pesticides.html

    The second which looks like an excellent candidate for the cause of white nose syndrome was first used after Diazinon was banned at the end of 2004. The first cases of white nose syndrome started appearing in Feb. 2006. This product contains hydramethylnon, a metabolic inhibitor, which may explain why a bats immune system is unable to respond to this fungal disease

    see link

    http://www.biospace.com/news_story.aspx?NewsEntityId=15952920

    Is anyone listening??

    Reply
  2. Peter Youngbaer

    Two comments: first, the figure of 60 million bats down to 60,000 is wildly inaccurate. In testimony prepared for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg in January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated a total of about 1.2 million bats had died across the East since 2007. Secondly, in response to Martel, there is no evidence to suggest any cause of WNS from environmental toxins. It is behaving as an infectious disease, as one would expect from a fungal infection.

    Reply
  3. Peter Youngbaer

    A third comment, about bats’ immune response: when the severely affected species of bats are hibernating (e.g. Little Brown, Northern Longeared, Indiana), their immune systems are also in torpor. The research tells us that it is at this time that the fungus is able to eat into the wings of the bats and cause serious lesions. Bats are rousing more frequently and saying up longer, which burns through precious energy in fats stored to last through the winter. When that is gone, the bats go out seeking food in the form of insects which aren’t there, and ultimately starve to death. Bats that don’t go into as deep torpor appear immune to the disease (e.g. Virginia Big Ears). This seems to be a natural function of the bats’ physiological behaviors and the fungus taking advantage, not anything tied to environmental toxins. Further, the spread of the disease is consistent with a typical infectious spread from an epicenter, given bat behaviors such as summer migration, foraging routes, and mixing during fall swarming and mating. If there were an environmental source, such as pesticides or other sprays or heavy metals, the outbreak would coincide geographically, and it has not. These sorts of things were all looked at early in the WNS investigation, and ruled out.

    Reply

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