Maryland's Bat Mines
New research is shedding light - ultraviolet light - on a disease that has devastated western Maryland's bats.
Daniel Feller is the Western Regional Ecologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service. Since 1990 he has been leading a statewide survey of bats alongside partners in academia, government and The Nature Conservancy.
After 20 years of watching bat numbers grow, Dan made a heartbreaking discovery in 2010: a disease called white-nose syndrome had reached the Central Appalachians and had begun to devastate the bat populations of western Maryland.
White-nose syndrome is named for the white fungus that attaches itself to dormant bats. It causes them to fly around and use up the energy stored from eating small insects - energy they need to see them through winter hibernation.
White-nose syndrome was introduced to the U.S. in 2006 by humans who inadvertently carried it from Europe to a cave near Albany, NY. The disease spread rapidly and has since killed more than 5.7 million bats in eastern North America. In some wintering areas (called hibernacula), 90 to 100 percent of the bats have died.
Despite a seemingly gloomy outlook, new research from the USDA Forest Service gives Dan hope. A study, published January 2, 2018 in the journal Nature Communications, shows that ultraviolet rays break down the fungus that causes white-nose. The study results might provide clues for stopping the deadly disease.
Bats are a critical component in a healthy forest ecosystem. They also provide significant agricultural pest control and pollination. Their survival is essential to our Appalachian forests.
The Nature Conservancy is working to keep the forests of the Central Appalachians connected and healthy in the face of climate change and other invasive threats such as white-nose.