The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has finalized a response plan to help combat a disease that is killing bats and spreading toward Georgia.
Described as North America’s “most precipitous wildlife decline in the past century,” white-nose syndrome is a wildlife epidemic blamed in the death of more than 1 million bats since its discovery in New York in 2006. The syndrome, called WNS, has since been confirmed in 11 states – the closest is Tennessee – and two Canadian provinces. The fungus blamed for the syndrome, Geomyces destructans, has been found on hibernating bats in two additional states.
The plan from the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division outlines steps for raising awareness about the syndrome, preventing or slowing its spread, reporting and analyzing bats, and managing related natural resources such as caves. Wildlife biologist Trina Morris, who led the effort, said the document is modeled after other states’ plans. A draft was reviewed by organizations varying from the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study to Georgia caving groups.
The goal, Morris said, was “having something specific to Georgia that we can use.” The plan can help guide everyone from cavers cleaning their equipment to researchers scoring bat wing damage and animal control companies removing bats from a building.
Researchers are trying to determine the cause of WNS, its effects and how it spreads. There have been no reported affects on humans or other wildlife.
The syndrome’s name comes from the white fungus found on the muzzles and other parts of affected bats. Awakened from winter hibernation, or a less intense period of torpor, the bats are using up fat reserves during times when the insects they eat are not available, leading to death by starvation and cold. Death rates of 90 to 100 percent have been seen in some hibernacula, or hibernation areas.
Georgia has few known large winter hibernacula. But learning more about the 16 species of bats found in the state is even more important considering the growing threat of WNS, said Morris, who works for the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section.
Species affected so far include the tri-colored bat (Perymyotis subflavus), little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), Southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius), small-footed myotis (Myotis leibii), cave myotis (Myotis velifer), and the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and gray bat (Myotis grisescens). All except the cave myotis are found in Georgia. The small-footed myotis is a state species of concern.
The plan is available at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation, along with other information on white-nose syndrome.