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New evidence that some bats might be able to fend off white-nose syndrome

Dec 13, 2016

There’s some hopeful news about a disease that’s killing bats.

White-nose syndrome is killing millions of bats in 29 states including Michigan, and five Canadian provinces. It’s a disease caused by a fungus.

But there might be a glimmer of hope. Researchers have found some bats in the U.S. appear to have developed resistance to the disease.

Kate Langwig is the lead author of this new study. She studies communicable diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Langwig says she and her team studied populations of little brown bats, which were previously one of the most abundant bat species across eastern North America.

“And what we found was that populations in New York that were persisting with the disease, and the disease had been there for at least four years, had developed much lower fungal loads at the end of the hibernation season than populations where white-nose syndrome was epidemic or causing mass mortality,” she says.

She says this means that there’s evidence that these populations are developing resistance to the disease.

“We’re not exactly sure what the mechanism is. But it does seem that the New York bats, at least in the populations that we examined, all seemed to developed some kind of resistance strategy for coping with this fungal infection,” says Langwig.

She says they don't know whether other kinds of bats in North America might be able to fend off white-nose syndrome. Some species of bats, such as the northern long-eared bat, have been hit especially hard by the disease.

“I think until we get a bit more information about how likely this mechanism is to happen across a broad spatial scale, it’s still an outstanding question about whether or not resistance can develop across the United States,” says Langwig.

You can listen to the interview with Kate Langwig above.