White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that affects hibernating bats, has devastated bat populations across America forcing the US forest service to close caves to the public. Caves and mine shafts stretch from Maine to Minnesota and will be boarded up to prevent access and contain affected colonies.
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Two years ago the decline in numbers of bat species in America prompted research and investigation into what could be killing off these vital creatures. Bats are responsible for keeping insect numbers in check, and without the presence of these winged mammals, cereal and fruit crops could be at risk of being under greater attack than usual.
Research discovered a fungus that develops that has been called ‘White Nose Syndrome’, which grows on the bat’s nose and tips of their wings. Although scientists do not know what exactly causes the fungus or what it is about the disorder that causes death among the bat population, however observations have shown that bats infected with the fungus tend to wake more during hibernation, which results in more bodyfat being burned than normal. The bat then effectively starves to death as their energy reserves run out over the winter period.
Justin Boyles, a graduate student of Indiana State University, is the lead author a computer model that simulates the activities of affected bats, and along with fellow researcher Craig Willis, a University of Winnipeg biology professor, Boyles will be introducing a series of man-made heat producing boxes which will be installed in the caves to provide bats with a warm ‘haven’. Their natural instinct is to gravitate to the area of a cave that is warmest in a bid to retain heat and therefore minimise the amount of energy they are using to keep warm, however this is only seen as a temporary measure to buy scientists more time to research more into the condition and try to find a cure.