If you’re a bat, hibernation is usually a time to slow down your metabolism, drop your body temperature and live off your stored fat reserves while winter does its thing. It’s a prescription for laziness, a requirement for survival. Energy is everything. So if something disrupts the balance – say, infection with Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome – disastrous consequences – death – may result.
A brand new study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that white-nose syndrome may be killing bats by increasing the amount of energy they use during hibernation, disrupting the delicate energy rationing balance they must maintain to stay healthy and alive. It’s the first time scientists have been able to explain, in detail, how the disease may be killing millions of bats in North America.
“This model is exciting for us, because we now have a framework for understanding how the disease functions within a bat,” says Michelle Verant, a postdoctoral researcher at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and USGS National Wildlife Health Center, lead author of the study, in a statement from USGS.
A better understanding means scientists can work toward more effectively developing ways to help keep bats alive.
Nik Hawkins, director of communications and public relations for the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, contributed to this post.