9 April 2013

Deadly bat fungus will be tracked across Canada

Environment Canada invests $300K in study of white-nose syndrome in bats
CBC News

Canadian scientists have planned a national response to combat white-nose syndrome, a disease that's wiped out entire bat colonies across the Maritimes.

Environment Canada has offered $300,000 in funding and that will allow the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre to hire a central planner, who will co-ordinate the work of universities, provincial and federal scientists studying the white-nose syndrome.

Ted Leighton, a veterinarian, who runs the wildlife health centre, said the white-nose bat syndrome threat requires an extraordinary effort.

"This was the case with avian influenza, it was the case with West Nile Virus, with chronic wasting disease, and now this is the case with white nose syndrome,” he said.

Leighton said the federal investment means research won't be duplicated and new information will travel fast throughout the Canadian research community.

In New Brunswick, Donald McAlpine, a zoologist with the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, said some bats could be locally extinct within a year.

White-nose syndrome was first detected in a cave west of Albany, N.Y., in 2006. The disease was first detected in New Brunswick in the spring of 2011 and it's believed to have come to North America from Europe.

Scientists say white-nose Syndrome has reached parts of Ontario.

McAlpine said the federal funding is intended to halt the westward progression of the disease.

“The great concern of course right now is that as this disease works west it will reach B.C., which has a very diverse bat fauna,” he said.

“We need a national, coordinated strategy to make sure we're putting the right safeguards in place."

The disease is named for the white patches that appear on the muzzles and other body parts of hibernating bats.

Bats can live between 30 and 35 years and have a relatively low birth rate, with only one offspring born every year, so it could take many years for the population to recover, scientists have said.

The declining bat population is a serious problem because bats are a natural form of pest control, McAlpine has said.

If there aren't enough bats to eat insects and help control insect populations, that could have a serious impact on farming, pesticide use, and the price of food, he said.