A University of Tennessee researcher helped confirm the link between the fungus Geomyces destructans
and the dropping bat population.
Over a million bats were killed in North American in 2006, and little has been done to try and save them due to lack of evidence for the alleged killer.
However, a new study has discovered that the fungus Geomyces destructans
is the agent of White-noise Syndrome (WNS), which is the fungal disease decimating the bat population.
The fungus has been thought to be the likely culprit because the skin lesions found on the bats are associated with colonization of the fungus.
"Many assumed that fungal infections in mammals only occur if some other pathogen has already weakened the immune system," Justin Boyles, a post-doctoral research associate in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said in a statement. "Additionally, the recent discovery that G. destructans
commonly colonizes the skin of bats in Europe with no major die-offs generated speculation that other unidentified factors are the primary cause of WNS."
The researchers set up an experiment to see if G. destructans
causes WNS. They housed bats in a laboratory under hibernation conditions and treated them with G. destructans.
The team also found that WNS can be transmitted from infected bats to healthy bats through direct contact.
"This information can be very useful to managers in their efforts to contain the spread of the disease," Boyles said in a statement. "These results provide the first direct evidence that G. destructans
is the causal agent of WNS and that the recent emergence of WNS in North America suggests the fungus is new to the continent and the bats here have not developed immunity to the disease."
The scientists are hopeful the findings will allow land managers and research to focus efforts on solutions that may slow the spread of the fungus.
"By illustrating that the fungus causes WNS, we are taking an instrumental step in clarifying how this disease develops and how to control it," Boyles said in a press release. "We hope our findings are useful in guiding management actions to preserve bat populations against this novel and devastating threat."
The findings were published in the journal Nature.