"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Bats in Colorado battle the deadly fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.

Bat populations in Colorado could also be declining, which could cause environmental disruptions across the state.

Two bats discovered in Boulder County In late February 2024, white nose syndrome, a fatal fungal disease, was confirmed. Additional bats in Larimer County also tested positive for white-nose syndrome earlier this spring.

With the primary batsman from North America White fungus Their faces, ears and wings were discovered in 2006 in caves where they hibernate near Albany, New York. The fungus causes bats to lose nutrients and moisture through their skin. Waking up early from hibernation In search of food and water

gave The disease spread rapidly to the West.Washington state in 2015 and California 4 years later. I confirmed it. Montana and New Mexico by 2021. There was evidence of fungus First reported in Colorado. In the summer of 2022.

I’m a bat biologist, and Most of my research Focused on the genetics of bats. Knowing which bat populations are genetically unique and where they’re found will help researchers understand how white-nose syndrome affects them and the way it moves across geographic regions. .

What is white nose syndrome?

White nose syndrome is the result. Fungal infection, .

Most fungi thrive in warm, moist conditions, but this a “Cold-loving” fungi. This trait is well adapted to growing on bats when their body temperature drops during hibernation and The immune system is suppressed.

Affected bats lose nutrients and fat reserves. Important to avoid winter hibernation As the fungus grows of their skin. One of the early signs of white-nose syndrome is when bats get up early from hibernation in the hunt for food. Fungus also affects. Other metabolic factorsresembling electrolyte levels.

After its discovery in North America, scientists looked for the fungus around the globe and located it in European and Asian caves, where they imagine it’s endemic. Bats in these areas will not be adversely affected by the fungus, as they likely are Co-evolved with fungi. And developed some immunity.

Maybe it was Brought to America. By travelers who explored caves in Europe and returned with contaminated cargo.

Species may face decline.

The species most affected by white-nose syndrome include members of the divergent group. bat that i read The majority of North American bats are present in western states, including Colorado.

Sixteen of 45 species of North American bats Of these 16, bats are 11 live only in western North America. And Seven live in Colorado..

All of those bats may experience massive population declines when exposed to white-nose syndrome.

Some North American bat species have lost greater than that. 90% of their population White-nose syndrome since 2006, including two present in Colorado:

Colorado testing for white-nose syndrome

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Testing since 2019.

In the summer of 2022, 25 Bats in the Old Fort of Bent Tested National Historic Site in Otero County. Only one, Yuma Bat (). was positive for fungusAlthough he showed no signs of illness.

A 12 months later, in July 2023, a Another Yuma beat At Bent's Old Fort, it had signs of fungus on its wings and was declared eutrophic by the National Park Service. This was the primary bat in Colorado to be confirmed with the disease.

A protracted-eared bat in Illinois is swabbed to check for white-nose syndrome.
Steve Taylor/University of Illinois/US Fish and Wildlife, CC BY

Prevent further spread

Because the disease is extremely contagious amongst eastern bats, finding a Colorado bat with white-nose syndrome should raise alarm bells. But biologists know little concerning the population structure, hibernation sites, and hibernation behaviors of most western species. This is a serious obstacle to understanding the potential impact of white-nose syndrome on bats in Colorado.

Researchers imagine that western bats may hibernate. Small sites, unlike many eastern bats that hibernate in large burrows and dams. This behavior may reduce the impact of disease within the West, as groups hibernating together could also be smaller, leading to limited opportunities for disease spread.

Researchers also lack information on the genetic structure of western populations of bats, a crucial aspect of management and conservation strategies.

Genetic research that I even have published with a bunch of colleagues shows strong evidence that biologists are Reducing the number A phenomenon called attributable to western species “Secret,” or invisible, species. This research shows that there are bats which might be similar in size and shape but genetically different. Since most species are identified by morphological characteristics, the variety of species recognized by science may be very small.

For example, little brown bats are currently considered a single species, although research has found that Five independent lineages inside this species.

In the East, cryptic species are most affected by white-nose syndrome. .

Two of those cryptic species — and — live along the Front Range in Wyoming and Colorado, so it's possible that bats are interacting with them there and spreading the disease.

The bat takes a shot from a long brightly colored needle.
Researchers vaccinate a bat against white-nose syndrome during a field trial.
Public domain

What's next for bats in Colorado?

Biologist John Dembowski on the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and I are teaming up to research genetic samples from across Colorado. We will analyze tissues from diseased bats in Boulder and Larimer counties together with a big genetic dataset of bats from across the state.

The results of our DNA analyzes will help predict how white-nose syndrome may spread in Colorado bat populations and where to focus on conservation efforts. Specifically, the outcomes will make clear where the 2 cryptic species occur within the state and, due to this fact, where disease transmission may occur.

Some promising developments:

gave US Geological Survey has recently developed a vaccine against white-nose syndrome and is currently evaluating its efficacy. However, its promise is currently limited, as vaccine use requires the capture and administration of all bats. Oral dosage of medicationAn almost unattainable task for a wild, nocturnal animal population.

Some preliminary studies on Eastern populations of little brown bats Suggest that they’re developing resistance to the fungus. Oh A small number survive..

Even if bats get better, populations rebuild It will take a long time. Most female bats produce just one offspring per 12 months during their lifetime, which could also be limited. Over 10 to 30 years. And most bat populations There are other threats to survive.resembling habitat destruction, threat to prey populations and persecution.