The federal government is giving Kentucky $47,500 to study a fatal bat disease. In total, 28 states will get more than $950,000 in grants for projects designed to track and research White Nose Syndrome.
The disease has been decimating bat populations in 22 states—including Kentucky—and 5 Canadian provinces for the past seven years. Bats are essential in keeping insect populations under control, and are an important part of the ecosystem.
Jonathan Reichard helps coordinate the national response to White Nose Syndrome for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“White Nose Syndrome is a disease that affects hibernating bats. It’s caused by a pathogen that takes advantage of these bats while they are hibernating so it targets specifically bats that hibernate in caves and mines,” he said.
The disease manifests itself in a white fungus on the muzzle and body of hibernating bats. This makes them exhibit uncharacteristic behavior during winter months, like flying outside to hunt for insects. White Nose Syndrome is nearly always fatal, and has killed more than 6 million bats since 2006. There’s currently no cure for the disease, but Reichard says this round of grants will help individual states fund further research.
“With this grants-to-states program we really hope that we are helping out the state biologists, who are doing amazing work to both prepare for and respond to White Nose Syndrome as it continues to spread. Kentucky has been a great partner in all of this and we hope that these funds can be helpful,” he said.
The fungus that causes the syndrome can’t be eradicated from caves without affecting other naturally occurring and essential fungi. Reichard says that the best option under investigation is to reduce the impact of fungus on the bats so they would no longer succumb to the disease at the speed they currently are.