Monday, December 26, 2011

White Nose Syndrome: One of the Most Overlooked Environmental Issues of the Year

In the last few posts of the year, I am going to highlight some of the most overlooked environmental issues of the year--both good and bad.  Today, I am starting with what I think is one of the most significant environmental issues to emerge in the last few years: white nose syndrome.

Map from the US Fish and Wildlife Service showing the
distribution of White Nose Syndrome.
This is a fungal disease of bats.  It can be described here.  It is clear that white nose syndrome, known by the acronym WNS, is spreading rapidly in areas where bats hibernate.  It has impacted many hibernacula (places where bats hibernate).  The impacted areas, as can be seen in the map, are largely in the northeastern United States, although the illness has been found in the Great Plains as well.  It is believed that over 1 million bats have died from the disease.

And, it does not appear to be slowing.

This is a serious problem for many reasons.  Many plants depend on bats as part of their life cycle.  In addition, many insects are controlled, in part, by bats.  Entire local ecosystems evolved with bats and their loss will transform these places in unexpected ways.

It is not entirely clear how the disease spreads, but many caves in the United States have been closed to visitors because of the fear that human's may carry the fungus on them.

Just as we have seen the collapse of some of the bee species in North America, the collapse of some bat species is a serious indication of problems ahead.

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