Artificial Cave May Help Researchers Study Deadly Bat Disease

Researchers in Tennessee hope the creation of an artificial cave will help stop the progress of a deadly bat disease.

White Nose Syndrome was discovered in 2006 in upstate New York, and now it has spread to four Canadian provinces and 19 states, including Kentucky. The disease is caused by a white fungus, and so far scientists aren’t really sure how to control it.

But a new artificial cave in Tennessee may help. The cave was built by the Nature Conservancy in Montgomery County, and mimics a natural environment. There are generally three stages of White Nose Syndrome, and state director Gina Hancock says even if bats come into the artificial cave with the disease, it still may help stop the spread.

“One of the ideas is to give them a Stage One every year,” she said. “So they come in, they hibernate, when they leave, we’re able to disinfect the artificial cave and it brings them back to Year One each year.”

It’s impossible to disinfect natural caves, because there are numerous cave-dwelling organisms and naturally-occurring fungi that would be harmed.

“Any of the research that’s going on on treatment methods, or trying to do anything to eradicate the fungus, you’ve got groundwater issues, it’s water supply for many people in Kentucky and Tennessee,” Hancock said. “There’s so many other critters that live in there, and we have no idea what the treatment method might do.”

The cave’s total cost is $300,000, which the Nature Conservancy is working to raise through private donations. The cave will be ready for bat hibernation next month.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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