New Details on Bat-Killing Fungus

  • In caves where 200 to 300 thousand bats used to hibernate, scientists like Scott Darling have found that this year there are only hundreds. (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Scientists are racing to find a way to fight-off a fungus that’s killing bats. More than a million bats have died so far. Scientists believe entire hibernating bat species could be wiped out within two decades. Laura Iiyama reports the cause might have come from overseas:

Transcript

Scientists are racing to find a way to fight-off a fungus that’s killing bats. More than a million bats have died so far. Scientists believe entire hibernating bat species could be wiped out within two decades. Laura Iiyama reports the cause might have come from overseas:

Biologist Scott Darling knew something was wrong in a recent winter when he got several calls at his Fish and Wildlife office in Vermont. People told him about hundreds of bats flying in the air and dying in the snow. During winter, the furry mammals should be hibernating.

He went to Aeolus cave. It’s where the bats in the area should be crowded together on the walls and ceiling.

“Aeolus cave became a morgue. Bats freezing to death in clusters just outside the cave entrance. Most of the bats flew out of the cave onto the landscape to certain death.”

Where 200 to 300 thousand bats had hibernated just four years ago, this year there are just a couple hundred.

The dead bats had white nose syndrome.

The white powdery fungus was first noticed on bats in New York State in 2006. It’s spread into Ontario, Canada and as far south as Tennessee.

The fungus is not directly killing the bats.

Thomas Kunz is a professor at Boston University. He suspects the fungus keeps waking-up the hibernating bats.

“It may be simply the irritation from the fungus that is causing, if you have athlete’s feet, it itches.”

Instead of hibernating, surviving on their fat reserves, the bats keep waking-up. They burn off the fat. They get too thin. And they die.

Word spread about the fungus.

Thomas Kunz says some scientists recalled seeing a white fungus on bats elsewhere:

“Bat biologists in Europe have observed and reported that there are bats that do have the fungus although it doesn’t seem to be killing them.”

Scientists think someone visited a cave in Europe. Spores from the fungus got on clothing or shoes. Then that person wore the same shoes or clothing in a cave in the U.S. The spores were picked-up by the bats.

The bats huddle together in hibernation, easily spreading the fungus.

Often 90 percent of the bats are killed-off after the first appearance of the fungus. And Kunz says that may have been what happened to bats in Europe because we don’t find as many bats in European caves as there have been in North American caves:

“Now it’s very possible that in historic times there were large numbers of hibernating bats in Europe and these are the leftovers, these were the survivors that may be resistant to the fungus.”

So the arrival of the fungus may mean US bat species will permanently drop in numbers, like the bats in Europe.

David Blehert (blee-hurt) of the US Geological Survey says if that’s the case, it will be a dramatic change in life in caves in America and Canada.

“Whereas we have hibernation caves with 100 thousand, 300 thousand and even commonly lower ten thousand but those are rather common sites where we’ve seen the fungus decimate up to 95 percent and greater to the animals in the cave. Many of the European hibernation sites have between one and thirty animals.”

There’s no treatment for white nose syndrome. And even if a cure is found, it will be a very long time –centuries– before the bats recover. Bats reproduce slowly. The females have only one pup, one baby bat, per year. And there are over a million bats dead so far.

For The Environment Report, I’m Laura Iiyama.

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Native Pollinators in Trouble

  • Jeffrey Pettis says while honeybees are a concern because they pollinate crops, the wild plants that rely on native pollinators can be in trouble as well. (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Honeybees have been dying by the millions because of colony collapse disorder. But government officials say it’s not just the bees that are in trouble. Lester Graham reports.

Transcript

Honeybees have been dying by the millions because of colony collapse disorder. But government officials say it’s not just the bees that are in trouble. Lester Graham reports.

Jeffrey Pettis heads up the USDA’s bee lab in Beltsville, Maryland. He says there’s a lot of concern about honey bees because they pollinate crops. But he’s also really concerned about wild native bees, butterflies, bats that pollinate plants in the wild.

“The wild plants that rely on native pollinators can be in trouble as well. So, there’s certainly should be concern for all pollinators in addition to honeybees, which I like to think of as a major agricultural pollinator.”

Pettis says habitat destruction is hitting nature’s wild pollinators hard, but bats are also dying because of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that’s spreading, killing bats by the millions.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Turbines and Bats: A Deadly Combo

  • Many bats are being killed by wind turbines (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

The wind turbine industry has made
changes to reduce the number of birds killed
by the spinning blades. But scientists are
finding that more bats are being killed.
Rebecca Williams reports one research team
thinks it now knows why:

Transcript

The wind turbine industry has made
changes to reduce the number of birds killed
by the spinning blades. But scientists are
finding that more bats are being killed.
Rebecca Williams reports one research team
thinks it now knows why:

It’s been a mystery why bats are getting killed by wind turbines. They’re
usually great at avoiding collisions because they sense moving objects
even better than still ones.

A team from the University of Calgary looked at dead bats near
turbines. They found that 90% of the bats had internal bleeding.

Erin Baerwald is the lead author of the study. She says there’s a sudden
drop in pressure near the tips of the turbine blades. And when bats fly
close enough, the pressure drop makes their lungs over-expand and
burst. She thinks the bats are attracted to the turbines.

“Maybe they see these tall turbines as trees.”

That’s because most of the bats that are getting killed are tree roosting
bats.

Baerwald says researchers are looking at ways to change turbines to
avoid killing bats.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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Gardeners Bats for Guano

A dealer in plant fertilizers is getting top dollar for product that he gathers close to home. Fred Kight reports some gardeners are just bats for the nutrient:

Transcript

A dealer in plant fertilizers is getting top dollar for product that he gathers close to home. Fred
Kight reports some gardeners are just bats for the nutrient:


What sells for 14 dollars a pound, comes from church steeples and is a fantastic plant fertilizer?
It’s bat poop. Or, more properly, bat guano.


Matt Peters says he already was selling worm dung as a plant food.


When nearby church leaders called him about their bat dropping problems, he added the guano to
the fertilizer inventory of his Ohio business. Peters says some customers are attracted by the
novelty… while others just want healthy plants:


“Definitely in my own personal trials I’ve been amazed at the power of bat guano. I never knew
green could be so green.”


Peters says the original manufacturers, so to speak, of his guano eat mosquitoes.


Since mosquitoes are nitrogen-rich, so is the bat guano… and plants love nitrogen.


For the Environment Report, I’m Fred Kight.

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Important Pollinators in Decline

There could be trouble for the nation’s food crops. Rebecca Williams reports researchers say some important pollinators are in decline in North America:

Transcript

There could be trouble for the nation’s food crops. Rebecca Williams reports researchers say some important pollinators are in decline in North America:


Without bees, hummingbirds and bats, many plants can’t reproduce.


A new report from the National Academy of Sciences says some of these pollinators are in trouble. Especially honeybees – their numbers have been dropping since the 1980s. That’s partly because non-native parasites are attacking the bees.


Allison Snow is an author of the report.


“Pollinators are so important for plant reproduction, for example: pumpkins and cranberries, almonds, strawberries, and in addition pollinators are important in the natural world because most flowering plants and shrubs and trees are visited by pollinators.”


Snow says diseases, parasites and habitat loss are some of the threats to pollinators. She says much more research is needed, especially on the smallest pollinators that tend to fly under the radar.


For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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