A serious problem that affects North American bats as they hibernate. A white fungus appears on the muzzle, ears, and wings of hibernating bats, disturbing them and causing them to wake early. Awakening early causes the bats to move around, and thus deplete their fat and energy reserves. Without a food source (insects) to replenish them, this leads to mortality, usually in 90 to 100 percent of the cave population.
The first recorded instance of WNS was in a New York state cave in 2006. Sadly, bat researchers may have spread the initial outbreak. Most affected sites found during 2008 had been entered by people that had visited the four sites found in 2007*. WNS has since spread rapidly to the northeastern and central United States and into Canada as well.
Scientists speculate that the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, was accidentally imported from Asia, perhaps by cavers. Species of North American bats which hibernate seem unable to resist it, and even the once-common little brown bat may now be endangered. Bats reproduce slowly (one pup per year) and thus the ongoing, rapid population loss will not be not easily reversed. The scope of the problem is still being analyzed, but the loss of a primary insect predator on such a wide scale is certain to seriously impact ecosystems and agriculture.
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