Monday, October 11, 2010

Deadly bat disease appears to be on Colorado's doorstep

In July we reported Western U.S. parks were considering closing caves to prevent the spread of the mysterious white-nose syndrome killing bat populations in the eastern half of the country. "Trying to buy time for researchers to find a solution, Denver-based U.S. Forest Service officials have ordered the closure to visitors of hundreds of caves and 30,000 abandoned mines in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota," Bruce Finley of The Denver Post reports. The disease has been found as far west as Oklahoma this summer. (Photo by Judy DeHaas, Denver Post)

If the disease reaches Colorado, locals should expect an explosion of flies, beetles, moths and mosquitoes, said Rick Adams, a biologist at the University of Northern Colorado and a bat expert. "You're going to feel the effects of this," he told Finley. "You're going to get bitten by a lot more other things that are actually likely to bite you, like mosquitoes. If you are a farmer, it's going to cost you a lot more for pesticides to protect your crops." The fungus attacks bats through the mouth or nose and prevents them from sleeping. Bats generally starve or freeze to death after burning up body fat reserves while looking for food when they normally would be hibernating from November to April.

"The threat of White-Nose Syndrome to the bat populations in this region is on our doorstep," Tony Dixon, the Forest Service's acting regional director, told Finley. "With White-Nose Syndrome killing from 80 to 100 percent of infected populations, the ecological consequences are too severe to risk the human spread of this deadly disease." A study from Boston University ecologist Thomas Kunz estimated demise of bat populations would cost farmers between $750,000 to $1.2 million from applying additional pesticides. "The only thing that could be done — it's going to take manpower and money — is to develop a vaccine to protect survivors," Kunz said. "Inject them with some kind of vaccine. That's years away. We're likely going to end up with large numbers of bats dying." (Read more)

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