U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Funds White Nose Syndrome Research in Bats

NEW YORK – May 18, 2012

EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, and USGS – National Wildlife Health Center announced the award of a grant received from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to research environmental factors that contribute to the increase and spread of white-nose syndrome in U.S. bat species.  In collaboration with USGS – National Wildlife Health Center, EcoHealth Alliance scientists will research the factors that drive the spread of the fungal disease that causes white-nose syndrome, namely Geomyces destructans, and environmental conditions within caves that affect hibernating bats and the growth of the deadly fungus.  The funding will be spread across varied activities targeting eight hibernation zones in multiple states in the eastern U.S., monitoring micro-climate changes within caves, and detecting fungal loads in bats, soil and rock surfaces where Geomyces destructans is known to be present.  The research will test whether environmental factors may play a larger role in the proliferation of the deadly disease.

“Bats are crucial to healthy ecosystems acting as a natural form of insect control, keeping populations of agricultural pests and disease vectors in check,” said Dr. Jon Epstein, wildlife veterinarian and Associate Vice President of EcoHealth Alliance.  The team of scientists will also develop and test predictive models to forecast white nose syndrome’s progression across the U.S. and Canada.  The fungus causing white nose syndrome has impacted bat species with a reported 5.5 million bats dead in the northeast.  “We’re in a race against time as this fungus spreads westwards, threatening bat populations across the U.S. and Canada,” says senior research scientist Kevin Olival and co-principal investigator.  It has been confirmed that white nose syndrome is present in 19 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces.  EcoHealth Alliance’s local conservation and global public health programs stem from the organization’s mission to integrate hard science and meaningful partnerships to combat the issues that stem from failing ecosystems, human/wildlife conflict and the resulting emergence of infectious diseases.

“Our goal is to better understand the dynamics of Geomyces destructans by investigating how and why it thrives.  This will give conservation scientists the opportunity to develop targeted solutions to try and stop the fungus’ spread,” said Dr. Peter Daszak, disease ecologist and President of EcoHealth Alliance.  For over 40 years, EcoHealth Alliance continues its focus on the health of people, animals, and ecosystems.  The organization’s groundbreaking work studying the ecology of bats and the zoonotic viruses that often malign the species has uncovered the source of the SARS virus, as well as led to new understanding of the spread of Nipah virus in Malaysia and Bangladesh.

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced seven grant awards totaling approximately $1.4 million providing critical support for the investigation of white nose syndrome.  Of the 31 grant proposals, only seven grants were awarded giving EcoHealth Alliance and USGS – National Wildlife Health Center the opportunity to better detect and understand the factors causing the spread of white nose syndrome.

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on over 40 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and safeguarding human health from the emergence of disease. The organization develops ways to combat the effects of damaged ecosystems on human and wildlife health.  Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever, global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions, to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance’s rigorous, science-based approach, focused at the intersection of the environment, health, and capacity building.  Working in the U.S. and more than 20 countries worldwide, EcoHealth Alliance’s strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, and policy initiatives.  For more information, please visit www.ecohealthalliance.org.


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