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New understanding about how white-nose syndrome kills bats

White-nose syndrome is the result of a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The fungus has been spreading rapidly among bat populations across North America. The infection strikes bats during their winter hibernation, leaving them weakened and susceptible to starvation and secondary infections. The hibernation issue is the main concern because the fungus thrives at low temperatures, and spreads to bats whose body temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fungus also cause unusual behavior, with infected bats seen flying outside during the day in temperatures at or below freezing (bats typically hibernate in caves during cold spells).

New research infers that many bats die by increasing the amount of energy they use during winter hibernation as a result of the fungal infection. During hibernation, bats must ration their energy supply in order to survive without eating anything until spring. If they use up their energy reserves too quickly then they will die.

Researchers have reached this theory by measuring the amounts of energy used by infected and healthy bats hibernating under similar conditions. The study revealed that bats with infected with white-nose syndrome used twice as much energy as healthy bats during hibernation. This is important because hibernation is not simply “sleep.” During hibernation, an animal enters into a state of inactivity. The biological function of the function of hibernation is to conserve energy during a period when sufficient food is unavailable.

Tackling the infection is important because North American bats face a death toll approaching 7 million. White Nose Syndrome was first identified in Upstate New York in 2006. Since then it has spread to caves throughout the East Coast and killed millions of bats

The new study has been performed by U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin. The latest finding shave been published in the journal BMC Physiology, with the research titled “White-nose syndrome initiates a cascade of physiologic disturbances in the hibernating bat host.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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