Bat Conservation International and four partners are cosponsoring an urgent meeting of scientists to explore the mysterious malady that is killing tens of thousands of hibernating bats in the northeastern United States.
The “Science Strategy Meeting,” in Albany, New York, this June, is to examine the latest facts and hypotheses concerning the cause of bat die-offs linked to what’s being called “white-nose syndrome” – and to identify the most promising approaches for vital scientific investigation.
Entire bat species are potentially at risk if scientists cannot solve this puzzle soon. White-nose syndrome (WNS), named for a white fungus found on the faces of some affected bats, has been reported since the winter of 2006-7 in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and possibly Pennsylvania. Mortality rates of up to 95 percent have been documented in some populations hit by WNS. Five bat species are affected by the syndrome, with little brown myotis hit the hardest. Endangered Indiana myotis also are taking losses.
The cause remains elusive. (Few scientists believe the fungus is the source of WNS.)
Organizers of the June 9-10 meeting include BCI, Boston University, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey. BCI has committed to providing up to $10,000 for a professional facilitator to organize and run the session and may, if necessary, add $5,000 to help defray travel expenses for participants. BCI will also host a working dinner for scientists who attend the meeting.
Bat Conservation International is depending on the generosity of its members and friends to help support this crucially important conference of top researchers.
Initial plans call for about 15 leading scientists from the most relevant fields to be invited. They will discuss current WNS information, implications and hypotheses, including pathogens/disease, contaminants/pesticides, immunology, ecology/behavior/physiology, crisis response/public health, climatology (both within caves and on the surface) and entomology (insect availability).
Representatives of relevant state and federal agencies and other organizations are being invited as observers.
With so much at stake, the organizers hope to recommend research priorities that limit redundancy and suggest the most efficient approaches for solving the tragic puzzle of white-nose syndrome before the damage becomes irreparable.