Josh Blodgett is saving bats from deadly fungus

Oct 19, 2017

By Courtney Chazen

Joshua Blodgett, assistant professor of biology, knows that bats may not rank high on most people’s lists of lovable creatures. However, that has not stopped him from researching how to combat white-nose syndrome (WNS), an infectious disease that is wiping out bat populations across North America. WNS was first documented in 2007 when researchers in Schoharie County, New York observed bats with white fungal growth on their muzzles and ears. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WNS has been confirmed in bat hibernation sites in 31 states and five Canadian provinces.

The fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans or P. destructans) causes bats to experience incessant itching, which wakes them up when they should be hibernating. With their essential sleep disrupted, the bats end up displaying abnormal behavior, such as leaving their caves in the dead of winter. It is believed recreational cavers using gear contaminated with European cave material caused the onset of WNS in the United States.

So, why should the public care that these nocturnal and mysterious mammals are being eliminated at a rapid rate?

“Bats are keystone members of cave communities, and entire subterranean ecosystems may collapse without them,” says Blodgett.

A 2011 article published in Science estimated that bats provide up to $53 billion in crop protection because of their consumption of insect pests.

“Farmers will need to spend a lot more money on pesticides because bats have extraordinary value for agriculturally intensive parts of the country,” says Blodgett. “And that will eventually affect consumers in their pocket book.”

Read the entire article at The Ampersand below.