“Boo!” Halloween is coming and one treat in the festivities is the celebration of “Bat Week,” an annual, international celebration of the role of bats in nature. Essential to a healthy environment, bats provide pest control and pollination. Worldwide, there are more than 1,400 species of bats and around 24% of those species are considered critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable. Several federally protected bat species inhabit Department of Defense (DoD) lands and, since the 1990s, the DoD has worked to preserve these species.
Tragically, the White-nose syndrome (WNS), an emergent disease of hibernating bats that is rapidly decimating bat populations across the United States. WNS is a huge concern for these federally protected species and likely to result in the federal listing of additional bat species. In response, SERDP and ESTCP funded two research efforts looking at white-nose syndrome in bats. In the first effort, Dr. Richard Lance and his team at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineering Research and Development Center, Environmental Laboratory conducted a project titled, Multifaceted High-Throughput DNA Barcoding for Addressing Critical Data Gaps for At-Risk Bats on DoD Installations. This effort demonstrated and validated a rapid approach for simultaneously and cost-effectively procuring information on multiple critical aspects of bat populations using DNA from non-invasively collected guano pellets. The second effort, led by Dr. Sarah Olson and her team at the Wildlife Conservation Society and titled, Assessing White-nose Syndrome And Non-Stationary Changes On Bat Populations On And Near DoD Installations In The West, seeks to develop knowledge to help identify species that are susceptible to WNS. This project uses a mechanistic WNS survivorship model to study the interaction of host bioenergetics, pathogen, and the environment. Finally, the project seeks to predict the impact of WNS in western North America where bat diversity is the highest on the continent.
Both of these projects are a critical step in the right direction in so far as they address critical gaps in the data required to more fully understand WNS.