Biology Symposium Explains White Nose Syndrome and the Importance of Bats

April 29, 2014-Tuesday evening, over 80 people were educated on White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) and the devastating negative impacts that it has on not only the bat population in the eastern portion of the United States.  This is one of the worse wildlife disasters in recent history in the commonwealth.    Bat Symposium

Lock Haven University, in partnership with the Lock Haven University Foundation, hosted a Biology Symposium featuring research on White-Nose Syndrome by Dr. Barrie Overton and his team of research students from Lock Haven University.  The event, sponsored by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, was held at the University’s Science Center.  Student poster presentations were available for viewing and discussion prior to the symposium.

Those who attended the symposium heard remarks from Steve Barondeau, Anadarko, and Greg Turner, Pennsylvania Game Commission before the various reports from students.  The history of WNS was presented to the audience, including the arrival of the fungus to a New York cave from Europe in 2006.  This suggests human to cave transmission of the fungus, as it is thought to be native to Europe.  Often times, bats are seen as a nuisance and thought to be carriers of rabies.  What many people do not realize is that bats are an extremely critical part of our ecosystem, mostly keeping the mosquito population and agricultural insect pests under control. 

WNS is an invasive fungal infection that is believed to have come from Europe and started in the United States in New York in 2006.  Since then, approximately six million bats have died across many states because of this fungus.  It is believed that the fungus grows on the nose and wing membranes of bats as they hibernate.  Bats arouse throughout hibernation normally, but those infected with the fungus experience a disrupted hibernation cycle. 

Neurological symptoms have also been associated with this syndrome, raising increased concerns that the fungus is attacking mammals. 

Dr. Overton and his students have partnered with state officials to examine WNS to conduct research that would be mutually beneficial to both communities and industry.  “Invasive fungal infections, whether on plants or animals, are not new in our region of the world,” said Overton.  “It is time to learn from these persistent fungal invasions and partner with industry, wildlife personnel, academics, and students to increase biosecurity and work together to preserve native biodiversity as fungal invasions and subsequent loss of native biodiversity will continue well into the next century as humans accidently move fungi around the globe.  I am grateful to Anadarko for hosting our symposium and hope to work with other members of the energy industry to gain access, permission and equipment to try and treat mines with the chemical and biological control agents that Lock Haven students have developed to treat WNS infections in bats.”

Lock Haven University is a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the largest provider of higher education in the commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 250 degree and certificate programs in more than 120 areas of study. Nearly 405,000 system alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.