Grant funds research to combat WNS

Grant funds research to combat WNS

SOUTH CAROLINA — White-nose syndrome, caused by the cold-loving fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has killed more than 6 million bats over the past decade. Studies show that bats are a vital species that eat enough insect pests to save the U.S. corn industry more than $1 billion a year in crop damage and pesticide costs, and save all agricultural production, including forests, more than $3 billion per year. Federal agencies, universities, private researchers, state agencies and tribes are working together to help save bats affected by WNS.

To help fund the research needed to combat this deadly disease, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $2.5 million in grants for research to help improve the ability to manage the disease and conserve affected bats. Southern Research Station research ecologist Susan Loeb and Clemson University assistant professor David Jachowski will receive $125,925 to fund the project “Will use of alternate winter roosts by tri-colored bats protect them from white-nose syndrome?”. The study will be conducted from November 2017 to mid-March 2018 and resume in November 2018 through mid-March 2019.

“The goal of this project is to determine whether tri-colored bats that use winter roosts other than caves and mines are susceptible to WNS,” Loeb explained. “We will use temperature-sensitive radio-transmitters and track tri-colored bats throughout the winter period in an area void of caves and mines to determine their roost sites and hibernation patterns. We want to see the vulnerability of tri-colored bats that hibernate in bridges and trees to WNS.” Their project will be conducted on the Savannah River Site in New Ellenton, South Carolina.

The information gained will allow managers and biologists to determine whether winter roost sites in trees and bridges provide an environment that is not amenable to the growth of Pd and WNS infection.

If bats in these areas are not vulnerable to WNS, these sites will represent important refugia for this species. Of course if the opposite is found to be true and tri-colored bats are still vulnerable to WNS, these bats may decline as quickly as those that roost in caves and mines, resulting in a further threat to their survival. Either way, important information will be gathered that will assist managers in developing conservation and recovery strategies for this once common but now declining species.

Susan Loeb weighs a tri-colored bat in Stumphouse Tunnel, a hibernaculum in South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Brooks, Clemson University.