Tuesday, January 09, 2018

UV light kills bat-killing fungus; research continues

A brown bat suffering from white-nose
syndrome. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service photo)
Bats decimated by white-nose syndrome could one day be saved by ultraviolet light, a study suggests. "Scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of New Hampshire have discovered that UV light kills the fungus that is responsible for the precipitous declines over the last decade of many bat species in 33 states" and two Canadian provinces, Don Hopey reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The fungus infects hibernating bats, causing them to use twice as much energy to maintain bodily functions, which makes them burn through body fat and die of starvation. It can also kill infected bats when they become so uncomfortable from the disease that they wake up and venture outside into the cold before succumbing to the elements. The Forest Service recently declared white-nose "the most catastrophic wildlife disease of the century," Hopey notes.

“This research has tremendous implications for bats and people,” Forest Service researcher Tony Ferguson told Hopey. A UV cure would be a boon to agriculture, or at least the prevention of a bane, since bats help with pollination, seed dispersal and insect control. "According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bats eat enough insects to save U.S. corn growers more than $1 billion a year in crop damage, and all farmers more than $3 billion," Hopey notes.

"The Forest Service has already started a follow-up study with researchers at Bucknell University in Lewistown, Union County, Pa., to determine if and how UV light can be used to treat bats," Hopey reports. The study "will measure the survival of 45 little brown bats from Wisconsin with white-nose syndrome that have been shipped to artificial hibernation chambers at Bucknell and treated with UV light." The fungus has killed almost all the little brown and northern long-eared bats in Pennsylvania; here's a Post-Gazette chart showing its impact in the state:

No comments: