Fungal Disease Decimating Bat Populations

BOSTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) — Scientists say a fungal disease is killing off bats in the northeastern United States and could drive one species to extinction in as little as 16 years.

Researchers looking at 17 years’ data on bat colonies say white-nose syndrome has killed almost 1 million little brown bats, Myotis lucigus, the BBC reported Friday.

“We went in to some caves and couldn’t step on the floor because it was littered with dead bats,” Thomas Kunz from Boston University said.

“It was pretty clear there was a massive die-off,” he said.

The fungus thrives in dark, damp conditions in bat caves, where it grows on the bats’ noses, wings and ears.

The fungal infection makes bats restless in winter when they should be hibernating and uses up their fat reserves, researchers say.

The disease was discovered in 2006 in a cave in New York frequently visited by tourists. Scientists say they believe humans carried the first fungal spores into the cave.

“In 20 years, this regional population is likely to go extinct,” Kunz said.

“People ask, ‘Why should we care?’” Kunz told the BBC. “But we have to think about how important bats are to ecosystems.

“A single bat can eat half its entire body weight in insects in one night and many of those insects are agricultural pests.

“So those 1 million bats that have died could have consumed about 694 tons of insects in one year,” he said.

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