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Genetics could be key for bats to survive White-nose syndrome

Photo by Heather Adams
University of Michigan

There may be hope for bat populations devastated by a disease caused by a fungus. 

White-nose syndrome(WNS) kills 90% of the bats that get infected, on average. Since emerging in 2006, WNShas effectively wiped out some bat populationsduring the past decade. 13 species of North American bats are currently affected.

The fungal infection interrupts the bats' hibernation, causing them to use up the fat reserves they need to survive.

Giorgia Auteri is a doctoral student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan.

Auteri says the bats that survive appear to have a genetic difference which allows them to hibernate more deeply and save their stored-up fat.

But she says it might not be enough to save bat species long term. 

“We don’t know if that advantage is big enough, is strong enough that the population is eventually going to be able to recover because of it,” says Auteri. “The reality is that the existing populations are very small.  And small populations are vulnerable to being wiped out just by random events.”

Researchers plan to expand their study to bat populations in other Midwestern states.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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