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Rhode Island Natural History Survey » White Nose Syndrome Update February 2011
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Animals &Exec's Blog &News dgregg on 03 Feb 2011 11:44 am

White Nose Syndrome Update February 2011

White Nose Syndrome was first discovered to be affecting bats in northeast North America in 2007. Since then it has devastated bat populations in the region and spread substantially across the eastern United States. There are several new developments that may be of interest to Rhode Island naturalists.

The following is a news item sent to RINHS by Bob Brooks, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Amherst, Mass.:
There has been significant documentation of WNS-associated declines in bats populations in winter hibernacula, excellently summarized by Frick et al. in their 2010 Science article. We are now starting to document the effects of this mortality in summer activity surveys. The first report was by Dzal et al. from surveys along the Upper Hudson River, NY. I am pleased to announce that an “in press” report on a 2010 re-survey of my 2004-2006 Quabbin sites is available on the Biodiversity and Conservation website.

Abstract: White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first reported in a hibernating bat population in central New York State in February 2006. Since 2006, WNS has been reported from bat hibernacula across much of eastern United States and adjacent Canada and has been associated with a dramatic decline in the populations of hibernating bats in the northeastern U.S. We are only beginning to discover how these declines are manifest in changes in summer bat abundance and activity at local scales. A 3-year (2004–2006) acoustic survey showed that the forested watershed of the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts supported an abundant and species-rich summer bat community. In 2010, 4-years following the initial occurrence of WNS, a re-survey of the same habitats and sites found a 72% reduction in bat activity on the watershed. This is the identical rate of decline reported from cave hibernacula surveys (73%). This decline in summer activity levels is most likely a consequence of WNS-caused mortality. The impacts of population losses of this magnitude of a once widespread and abundant taxa are unknown but are presumed to be ecologically significant.

If anyone is interested in the paper and is unable to access it from the journal website, I would gladly send a digital reprint. -Bob Brooks

WNS is, in all likelihood, caused by a fungus (Geomyces destructans), and has been shown to be transmissible not just from bat to bat but from G.d. spores in the environment, it is imperative that those venturing into caves or other bat habitats and those handling bats take steps to prevent movement of spores and other contamination. To that end, a decontamination protocol has been developed using the best available science. Those interested can follow this link:
WNS decontamination procedure

Here in Rhode Island, the Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fish & Wildlife, has been developing bat monitoring procedures to better understand the importance of bats in our local ecosystem and any long-term changes that may result from WNS. DEM Biologist Charlie Brown has been the lead on this project and those interested what’s happening or in what they can do to help should contact him using the DEM Fish & Wildlife website.

5 Responses to “White Nose Syndrome Update February 2011”

  1. on 06 Feb 2011 at 5:35 pm 1.Carol said …

    Why hasn’t any research been done to determine if the increase in microwaves in the environment (cell phone towers, wifi antennas) is behind the growth of this fungus and eventual White Nose Syndrome in bats?

    The Effect of Microwave Radiation on Fruit Mold:

    Do EMFs Affect Yeast Growth?

    Bees are dying of Colony Collapse, too…it’s not just bats here.

    I worry that researchers aren’t looking at the whole picture. They can study the hell out of this fungus, but there’s obviously more going on here than meet’s the eye.

  2. on 17 Feb 2011 at 4:51 pm 2.Carol said …

    Google ‘Do EMFs Affect the Growth of Yeast?’ and ‘The Effect of Microwave Radiation on Fruit Mold?’ Then ‘think’ cell phone towers and WiFi.

    Yes, the microwave radiation emitted by these new technologies is killing the bat population…

  3. on 17 Feb 2011 at 5:41 pm 3.dgregg said …

    Thanks for starting a discussion about this subject. You cite summaries of California school science fair projects, which aren’t perhaps the most reliable sources. Note that the one with the fruit mold concludes that adding microwave radiation, which is equivalent to heat, [not exactly true] increases mold growth, which isn’t exactly the same as saying there’s some strange relationship between electromagnetic radiation and bat pathologies. By the same logic, you could conclude that increased mold growth in bats is caused by increased average ambient temperatures due to global warming, and not EMFs at all. Anyone else out there care to weigh in on the discussion? I don’t think there’s any question that microwave radiation can affect organisms…my wife microwaves our dish sponges to kill bacteria, for instance, but does anyone have better citations for the kind of effect Carol is worried about?

  4. on 08 Jul 2011 at 5:10 pm 4.Carol said …

    I realize those websites I posted are science fair projects, but certainly it wouldn’t be too difficult for scientists to test their accuracy one way or another. And both WNS in bats and CCD is honeybees arrived around the same time…right along with the exponential growth of wireless technology…and some researchers have found a link between CCD and EMFs.

    I’ve tried emailing WNS researchers about this theory, but none of them seem to want to be bothered. I just hope it’s not too late when they figure out that staring at these microbes under the microscope, cave closures and the like aren’t going to stop the disease. We need to turn off the EMFs…and soon.

  5. on 11 Jul 2011 at 9:48 am 5.dgregg said …

    Co-occurrence does not constitute causation, as they say (the old saw about robins causing daffodils or umbrellas causing rain). In fact there are many things that have happened at approximately the same time as the increase in cellphones in addition to WNS and CCD, for instance the return of coyotes to the eastern U.S., the decline in flounder stocks on George’s Bank, and war in Iraq and Afghanistan, so why single out WNS and CCD? The FDA site on radiation points out that if there was a link between cell phone radiation and cancer, for instance, we’d see a steep increase in it, but there’s been a decline. That site also has a lot of other good information on the state of the science over EMFs.

    There’s also an old expression in medicine that applies…”If you hear hoofbeats, don’t look for zebras.” It is the same sentiment as Occum’s Razor, a philosophical tool that holds that the simplest explanation for something is usually the best. In the case of WNS there is a much more parsimonious explanation: a pathogenic fungus from Europe, that North American bats had no immunity to, was introduced into North American caves by the rapidly increasing “sport” of caving. They are starting to zero in on an explanation for CCD that involves recent trends in beekeeping. In this case the most parsimonious explanation for CCD is that these well-known deleterious trends in beekeeping are causing CCD rather than some effect of EMF that’s been undetectable by numerous scientific efforts. Beekeepers have been spreading pathogens and parasites, subjecting hives to multiple stresses including poor nutrition, and importing lousy quality bees and supplies from China. There’s no need to resort to EMFs to explain the problem.

    Another common scientific principle that may apply is that theories are tested by being disproven…they must be falsifiable. Rather than looking first at what observations prove the theory, ask instead what evidence would disprove it. So what evidence is there that would disprove a link between EMF and WNS, for instance? Maybe look for a relationship between the amount of EMF a bat population is exposed to and the prevalence of WNS in that population? EMF rates no doubt vary around the northeast and so does WNS so use statistics to objectively compare the two distributions.

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