Katherine Haman, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ( Phone: 360-870-2135 ); Catherine Hibbard, United States Fish and Wildlife Service ( Phone: 413-531-4276 ); Marisa Lubeck, USGS ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );
Wing damage from fungus in little brown bat. These little brown bats in a NY cave exhibit the fuzzy white muzzles associated with the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
The USGS National Wildlife Health Center conducts a bat autopsy as part of its efforts to study the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats. A healthy, banded little brown bat hangs out in a cave. Photographer - Paul Cryan, USGS
OLYMPIA, Wash. – White-nose syndrome (WNS) has been confirmed in a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) found near North Bend – the first recorded occurrence of this devastating bat disease in western North America. The presence of this disease was verified by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.
WNS has spread quickly among bats in other affected areas, killing more than six million beneficial insect-eating bats in North America since it was first documented nearly a decade ago.
WNS is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.
On March 11, hikers found the sick bat about 30 miles east of Seattle near North Bend, and took it to Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for care. The bat died two days later, and had visible symptoms of a skin infection common in bats with WNS.
PAWS then submitted the bat for testing to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, which confirmed through fungal culture, molecular and pathology analyses that it had WNS.
“We are extremely concerned about the confirmation of WNS in Washington state, about 1,300 miles from the previous westernmost detection of the fungus that causes the disease,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Bats are a crucial part of our ecology and provide essential pest control for our farmers, foresters and city residents, so it is important that we stay focused on stopping the spread of this fungus. People can help by following decontamination guidance to reduce the risk of accidentally transporting the fungus.”
First seen in North America in the winter of 2006/2007 in eastern New York, WNS has now spread to 28 states and five Canadian provinces. USGS microbiologist David Blehert first identified the unknown fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which causes the disease. WNS is named for the fuzzy white fungal growth that is sometimes observed on the muzzles of infected bats. The fungus invades hibernating bats’ skin and causes damage, especially to delicate wing tissue, and physiologic imbalances that can lead to disturbed hibernation, depleted fat reserves, dehydration and death.
“This finding in a far-western location is unfortunately indicative of the challenges we face with the unpredictability of WNS,” said Suzette Kimball, director of the USGS. "This underscores the critical importance of our work to develop tools for early detection and rapid response to potentially devastating wildlife diseases."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads the national WNS response effort, working with state and federal partners to respond to the disease. The Service’s National White-nose Syndrome Coordinator Jeremy Coleman said the first step will be to conduct surveillance near where the bat was found to determine the extent of WNS in the area. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is responsible for bat management and conservation in Washington and will coordinate surveillance and response efforts.
WDFW veterinarian Katie Haman said the disease is transmitted primarily from bat to bat, although people can carry fungal spores on their clothing, shoes or caving gear.
“The bat found near North Bend most likely had been roused from hibernation and was attempting to feed at a time of very low insect availability,” Haman said. “At this point we don’t know where the infected bat may have spent the winter, but it seems likely that it was somewhere in the central Cascades.”
Haman said Washington state has 15 species of bats that benefit humans by consuming large quantities of insects that can impact forest health and commercial crops.
WDFW advises against handling animals that appear sick or are found dead. If you find dead bats or notice bats exhibiting unusual behavior such as flying outside during the day or during freezing weather, please report your observation online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/wns or contact the WDFW Wildlife Health Hotline at (800) 606-8768.
To learn more about WNS and access the most updated decontamination protocols and cave access advisories, visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org.
Leslie Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006 );
A new study suggests that the degraded breakdown products of oil-spill contaminants in groundwater could be just as important to monitor as the original contamination itself.
At sites where crude oil or petroleum hydrocarbon fuel spills have occurred and contaminants have entered groundwater, naturally occurring microbes in the soil can digest or break down the original crude oil, producing byproducts known as metabolites. The metabolites are more soluble in groundwater than the parent compounds and are transported from the original source forming a groundwater plume.
Results of a recent U.S. Geological Survey study suggest that at oil-spill sites where residual sources are present, the monitoring of metabolites or breakdown products may be an important part of an effective evaluation of the fate and effects of groundwater contaminant plumes.
The study of two crude-oil spill sites in Minnesota focused on the occurrence and fate of the combination of all dissolved organic carbon metabolites in existing contaminant plumes. Contaminants such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are commonly found in groundwater plumes from crude oil. It was the metabolites of those contaminants as well as the less soluble components of the crude oil – the biodegradation products of the original oil contaminants – that were studied.
Scientists discovered concentrations of oil breakdown products at greater concentrations than the typical regulated-compound concentrations. These types of crude-oil metabolites in groundwater plumes at the two sites are not covered by regulatory monitoring and reporting requirements in Minnesota and other states. Yet at study sites where the spilled oil is still present, the total concentration of metabolites can exceed the concentrations of regulated compounds by one to two orders of magnitude. In addition to possible concerns about toxicity, these plumes of metabolites can slow the biodegradation of other compounds in the contaminant plume.
“We compiled 20 years of monitoring data to understand the occurrence of the metabolites relative to other regulated crude-oil contaminants,” said USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study, Barbara Bekins. “Concentrations of the regulated crude oil compounds are one-third to one-half of the total concentration of the metabolites found in groundwater at our study sites. The values of the metabolites are 10 times higher than benzene and two to three times higher than the standard regulatory measure of diesel-like compounds in the same wells. Monitoring data show that the plume of metabolites is expanding more rapidly than the benzene plume.”
“Metabolites of hydrocarbon degradation, such as those found at these crude oil spill sites, are also common at sites contaminated by other fuels such as gasoline leaks and spills,” said USGS co-author Isabelle Cozzarelli.
“This analysis was possible because of USGS scientists’ long-term monitoring of hydrocarbon degradation progression. Long-term collection of hydrologic and geochemical measurements is the foundation of USGS science. This study is a great example of the application of science to inform potential regulatory process updates,” said USGS groundwater specialist and co-author Melinda Erickson.
This new research, “Crude oil metabolites in groundwater at two spill sites,” published in the journal “Groundwater,” is available online.