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White Nose Syndrome


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Presentation to the Nashville Grotto of the National Speleologial Society March 19. 2009

Presentation to the Nashville Grotto of the National Speleologial Society March 19. 2009

Published in: Education, Sports, Technology

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  • 1. White Nose Syndrome Update April 2009 Compiled by Chrys Hulbert NSS#45071 (Photo by Nancy Heaslip, New York Department of Environmental Conservation.)
  • 2. What is White-nose Syndrome?
    • White-nose Syndrome refers to a white fungus on the noses of many affected bats.
  • 3.
    • Bats affected with WNS do not always have the fungus, but may display abnormal behaviors
    • Bats are losing their fat reserves long before the winter is over, and they are dying.
    • Mortality rates where WNS has been documented can range as high as 90 percent.
  • 4.
    • More than 400,000 bats have died from WNS including 25,000 federally endangered Indiana bats. ,
    • The little brown bat has been hardest hit by WNS, but deaths have been reported among other species including northern myotis, Eastern small-footed myotis, and long-eared Eastern pipistrelle.
  • 5. What are signs of WNS?
    • bats with white fungus, especially on the nose, but also on the wings, ears and/or tail;
    Photo: Alan Hicks
  • 6. Source: Wing-Damage Index Used for Characterizing Wing Condition of Bats Affected by White-nose Syndrome Jonathan D. Reichard
  • 7.
    • bats flying outside during the day in the winter in temperatures at or below freezing.
    • bats clustered near the entrance of the hibernaculum or in areas not normally identified as winter roost sites
  • 8. dead or dying bats in caves , on the ground, or on buildings, trees or other structures Photo: Alan Hicks (Credit: Kevin Wenner/PGC Photo)
  • 9.
    • 10/30/2008 Newly Identified Fungus Implicated in WNS
    • USGS microbiologist David Blehert isolated the fungus, and identified it as a member of the group Geomyces.
    • Geomyces are a group of fungi that live in soil, water and air and are capable of growing and reproducing at refrigerator-level temperatures.
    • Although the new fungus is a close genetic relative of known Geomyces , it does not look like a typical member of this group under the microscope.
    • (reported in the journal Science )
  • 10.
    • “ We found that this fungus had colonized the skin of 90 percent of the bats we analyzed from all the states affected by WNS ”, Blehert said.
  • 11.
    • Isolates were initially cultured at 37°F , grew optimally between 41-50° , but grew marginally up to 70°F .
    • Temperatures in WNS-affected hibernacula seasonally range between 37° and 50°F, permitting year-round growth and reservoir maintenance of the fungus. .
  • 12. Timeline
    • 2006 : WNS was first observed near Albany, New York, in Howe ’s cave.
    • 2007 : biologists in New York documented the condition in four caves in the Albany area, but no dead bats were observed at that time.
  • 13.
    • early 2008 : thousands of dead bats were seen in New York caves. At some sites, more than 90 percent of the bats had died.
    • By the end of winter 2008: this problem had spread to Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.
  • 14. Source: Alan Hicks
  • 15.
    • Jan.2009 Bats in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were found that exhibited many of the signs of White-Nose Syndrome.
    • Feb. 6, 2009 the National Wildlife Health Center confirmed that the NJ and PA bats tested positive for the cold-loving Geomyces fungi.
  • 16.
    • January and February, 2009, Bats with symptoms of White Nose Syndrome seen in West Virginia
    • In Hamilton Cave , and Trout Cave in Pendleton County, WV., white fungus was observed on 25% of the bats examined.  
    • The fungus appeared on all species (except the single Virginia Big-Ear seen just inside the entrance).  
    • both caves are located on the NSS owned John Guilday Caves Nature Preserve.
  • 17.
    • In a compilation of trip reports assembled by the Northeast Cave Conservancy, Hamilton Cave was among the caves subsequently visited by cavers that had visited affected caves in New York.
    • NSS John Guilday Cave Preserve is closed Until Further Notice
  • 18.
    • WNS was subsequently observed in Cave Mountain Cave , 17+ miles north of the Guilday Preserve.
    • This cave has a summer maternity colony of Virginia big-eared bats and from banding data we know at least some of these bats hibernate in Hellhole, the largest concentration of Virginia big-ears anywhere.
    • Feb 20: Scientists confirmed that the West Virginia cases are harboring the geomyces fungus
  • 19.
    • February 7, 2009
    • The Board of the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCi) closed several SCCi-owned or managed caves in the southeastern U.S. All of the caves being closed are home to significant populations of endangered bats. 
    • This is a precautionary action to protect endangered bats from White Nose Syndrome (WNS).
  • 20.
    • Feb 20, 2009 Biologists in New Hampshire announced that they had WNS in one of the two mines they have recently visited.
  • 21.
    • February 25, Virginia
    • Department of Conservation and Recreation biologists found signs of an early stage of WNS outbreak, including three dead eastern Pipistrelles, in Breathing Cave , Bath County
    • 10% to 15% of the little brown bats showed fungal growths around their muzzles, forearms and wing membranes.
    • The owners of Breathing Cave closed the cave.
  • 22.
    • Mar 3, biologists visited Clover Hollow Cave in Giles County, Virginia , following reports of a bat flying in daytime outside in the snow.
    • they found numerous dead bats, approximately 200 individuals staged near the entrance of the cave, and evidence of fungus on individual bats.
  • 23.
    • 3/6/09 The Virginia Cave Board and Natural Heritage Karst Program called for a moratorium (a voluntary ban) on all caving activity in Virginia until April 15, 2009.
    • 4/2/09: Scientists confirmed that the Virginia cases tested positive for the geomyces fungus
  • 24.
    • As of March 18, 2009, at least 60 hibernacula in nine states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia) are known to be affected by WNS.
  • 25.  
  • 26.
    • March 26, 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Cave Advisory recommending:
    • A voluntary moratorium, effective immediately, on all caving activity in states known to have hibernacula affected by WNS, and all adjoining states .
    • Currently, those states are:
    • CT, DE, KY, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, TN , VT, VA, WV.
  • 27.
    • AND
  • 28.
    • There is no test for WNS
    • Researchers are focusing on the fungus because it is the only thing they have yet that can be studied, not because they are sure it is the primary pathogen.
  • 29.
    • Researchers don't know yet if WNS emerged because this newly identified fungus was introduced into caves or whether the fungus already existed in caves and began infecting bats after they were already weakened from some other cause.
    • This fungus may have been recently introduced to bat hibernation caves
    • if so, human and animal movements among these caves are causes that need to be considered.
  • 30.
    • Data show the occurrence of white-nose syndrome radiating outward from the site of its first appearance,
    and genetic identity among fungal isolates from distant caves argues for a recent introduction of this microbe.
  • 31.
    • " Before the identification of white-nose syndrome, mass mortality events in bats as a result of disease were very rare."
    • David Blehert
    • “ People are starting to comb through old historic records to see, but there is no evidence that I know of anywhere in the fossil record, or in recent recorded history, of a die-off of this nature in bats.”
    • DeeAnn Reeder, Ph.D.,
    • Bucknell University 
  • 32.
    • It is unclear at this point how WNS is transmitted.
    • While there is virtual unanimity by researchers that WNS is being spread bat to bat,
    • Dr. Blehert's preliminary results have shown that bats can get the fungus simply from environmental exposure, not just from other bats.
  • 33.
    • The Virginia and West Virginia appearances seem to indicate human assistance.
    • Why?
    • All the VA and WV caves where this has been found so far are recreational caves with high visitation .
  • 34.
    • And because the distance between the W. VA sites and the nearest known PA sites is well beyond the known summer travel distances of the affected species.
    • it is imperative that we don't facilitate the further spread of WNS.
  • 35. What is being done?
    • Missouri State University is studying possible metabolic abnormalities in hibernating bats.
    • Cornell and Boston Universities are jointly exploring whether bats immune systems are weakened during hibernation.
    • These projects are funded by BCI WNS grants.
  • 36.
    • Researchers with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center are studying the environmental prevalence of the recently-discovered Geomyces fungus associated with WNS.
    • cavers are assisting with the collection of soil samples this winter from caves and mines occupied by bats.
    • they are collecting small soil samples from 4-6 caves or mines in each state east of the Mississippi River, plus the states that border the Mississippi on the west, (e.g. 6 in Missouri, 5 in Arkansas, 4 in New Hampshire). roughly 120-150 total sites.
    • Observe the voluntary moratorium.
    • Decontaminate your gear.
    • Do not enter closed caves
    • Do not handle dead bats
    • Report dead or infected bats
    • If you come across live or dead bats with WNS, contact your state wildlife agency or contact your nearest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field office
    • Give to the NSS Rapid Response Fund
  • 38.
    • Cavers choosing Not to observe the voluntary moratorium and cavers not in the affected and contiguous states should:
    • limit their caving activity to one geographic area as defined by a county or group of contiguous counties.
    • adhere to decontamination procedures when moving between caves (even within the same geographically designated area)
  • 39.
    • Cavers in regions outside the WNS-affected and adjacent states should be using clothing and gear that has never been used in caves or mines in the affected or adjacent states , and should thoroughly clean and contain all clothing and gear upon exiting caves .
  • 40.
    • Decontamination Protocols
    • are posted on the
    • US Fish & Wildlife
    • WNS page
  • 41.
    • Wash clothing in detergent and hottest water available
    • Alcohol: A 70 percent isopropyl alcohol is a readily available and good choice.
    • Quaternary ammonium compounds : Specific choices include, but are not limited to, Sparquat 256 and the antibacterial form of Formula 409®.
  • 42.
    • Bleach solutions:
    • household bleach 1:100 (1 part bleach in 100 parts water) is appropriate for smooth pre-cleaned surfaces,
    • 1:10 dilution(1 part bleach in 10 parts water) is appropriate for porous surfaces that are difficult to pre-clean.
    • These products can be corrosive to some metals and irritating to skin. Consult manufacturers' guidelines for appropriate use.
  • 43.
    • Dr. Blehert has determined that the fungicidal product Pure Green 28 , that had been approved by USFWS, widely adopted in the northeast, and sold at OTR last fall is not effective and should not be used.
  • 44.
    • Ropes and harnesses: Use caution when considering disinfectant products for ropes and harnesses so performance is not affected.
    • Consult the manufacturer of your rope or harness for specific recommendations on appropriate cleaning and disinfectant procedures and products.
  • 45. Give to the NSS Rapid Response Fund
    • The purpose of the NSS White Nose Syndrome Rapid Response Fund is to initiate or continue field and laboratory research into White Nose Syndrome in bats, especially where other funding is not readily available, and would result in critically identified seasonal research not occurring.
  • 46.
    • The WNS Rapid Response Fund gives you an opportunity to provide timely, direct, and much-needed support for WNS research. In fact, this may be the only way to provide immediate significant and targeted resources to the biggest threat ever to face bats in the United States
  • 47.
    • Your help is needed . Make your tax-deductible donation online at the NSS Donation Page, or write a check to the NSS WNS Rapid Response Fund and mail it to: NSS, 2813 Cave Ave., Huntsville, AL 35810-4431. The NSS is a 501(c)3, non-profit, tax-exempt organization.
  • 48. Sources
    • NSS White Nose Syndrome Page
    • David S. Blehert, et al: Bat White-Nose Syndrome: An Emerging Fungal Pathogen? Science 9 January 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5911, p. 227
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast region website
    • Wing-Damage Index Used for Characterizing Wing Condition of Bats Affected by White-nose Syndrome. Jonathan D. Reichard Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Boston University