White-nose Syndrome in Tennessee

WNS BackgroundWNS PESU

White-nose Syndrome is a mysterious disease that is killing bats across the northeast United States. WNS was first discovered in New York in the winter of 2006/2007, since then the syndrome has spread dramatically and can now be found in Tennessee.

The cause of the syndrome is unknown at this point. WNS is characterized and named as such due to a novel white fungus Geomyces destructans (Blehert and Gargas) that grows on the muzzle, ears, and wings of affected bats (Gargas et al. 2009). This fungus invades the epidermis of the bats, unlike many other fungal infections (Meteyer et al. 2009). How WNS kills bats is unknown at this time. A leading hypothesis is that G. destructans infections affect the arousal periods of hibernating bats, causing them to use their fat reserves prior to emergence, essentially starving the bats. Mortality at affected caves has been documented at 80 to 97% (Blehert et al. 2009). Mortality rates differ among species, with little brown bats being the hardest hit. The fungus persists in cave sediments, which may act as a reservoir for re-infection and transport between caves. Human transport of the fungus to new areas has not been proven, but appears to be a possible mechanism for transport. Bat to bat transfer is by far the most common way WNS spreads.

To reduce the potential for the spread of WNS the USFWS issued a cave advisory in March 2009 urging the closure of all caves in the affected area and bordering states. Commercial caves and WNS research were to continue. A disinfection protocol was developed to treat cave gear and restrict the use of cave gear between sites. Many public agencies followed this advisory and issued closure notices. In TN the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and the Tennessee Division of Forestry closed access to caves on their properties. This closure order has been extended through June 2013.

Current Tennessee WNS Distribution Map

WNS Research

Many research projects are underway to help in the fight against WNS, from researching fungicides to modeling the spread and affects of the syndrome. If you would like to help there are many ways in which you can.

WNS Reponse Plans and Resources

Literature Cited