A rampant fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome has scientists across the country worried about one of the ecosystem's most important participants: bats. The disease, which began in New York but now threatens to spread to the Pacific Northwest, makes bats wake up during the months when they should be hibernating and burn all their energy before they can gather more food.
Scientists are unsure how the disease has been spreading but say it could have been transported by humans through travel and caving. Environmentalists have considered closing some cave to tourists and spelunkers but have decided, for now, to ask cavers to wash their shoes to avoid spreading the disease. Bats are important to the ecosystem because a single bat can consume 600 moths, mosquitoes and other pests in just an hour.
Some scientists say the disease is so widespread that it could, eventually, lead to the loss of some bat species. In the meantime, they are scrambling to understand how and why it spreads to keep it from infecting more bats.
"We think of bats as a group, but there are individual species. And we now have nine species of bats that have been affected by White Nose with virtually no resistance." - Pat Ormsbee, bat scientist
"It scares us because caving is something we love. And to be shut out of the caves that spend so much time in is like -- almost like a death of a certain lifestyle." - Matt Skeels, caver
"If we get through this without loss of species, it would be great. But it also might take a little bit of a miracle." - Pat Ormsbee, bat scientist
1. What is an ecosystem? How does it work?
2. How do diseases spread?
3. Why are bats important to the ecosystem?
1. Can you think of other examples of animal diseases that can be spread by humans? What precautions do humans take to prevent their spread?
2. How could the loss of bat species affect humans? Why does it matter?
3. Do you think caves should be closed until scientists figure out how White Nose Syndrome is spreading? Why or why not?