Bats appear in a lot of the décor this time of year and as many are carving pumpkins with this animal in mind, they may be surprised to learn that a deadly disease is threatening the species. White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emergent disease of hibernating bats that is rapidly decimating bat populations across the United States. Bats are essential to a healthy environment, providing agriculture pest control and pollination.

Several federally protected bat species inhabit Department of Defense (DoD) lands and, since the 1990s, the DoD has expended resources to preserve these species. WNS is a huge concern for these federally protected species and will result in the federal listing of additional bat species occurring on DoD lands.

SERDP and ESTCP are currently funding two efforts looking at white-nose syndrome in bats.

Dr. Richard Lance and his team at the ERDC Environmental Laboratory are conducting a project titled “Multifaceted High-Throughput DNA Barcoding for Addressing Critical Data Gaps for At-Risk Bats on DoD Installations.” They aim to demonstrate and validate a rapid approach for simultaneously and cost-effectively procuring information on multiple critical aspects of bat populations using DNA from non-invasively collected guano pellets.  Multifaceted DNA metabarcoding (MDM), is an innovative combination of next-generation sequencing (NGS), DNA metabarcoding, and molecular scatology. The benefits of MDM include: (1) enhanced WNS surveillance, (2) identification of critical foraging resources used by bats, and (3) ability to track changes in bat health parameters (i.e., changing population size or parasite loads).

Sarah Olson and her team at the Wildlife Conservation Society just started a project titled “Assessing White-nose Syndrome And Non-Stationary Changes On Bat Populations On And Near DoD Installations In The West.” Their research seeks to develop the science needed to help identify species that are susceptible to WNS. This project will use a mechanistic WNS survivorship model to study the interaction of host bioenergetics, pathogen, and the environment. They hope to predict the impact of WNS in western North America where bat diversity is the highest on the continent.

Both of these projects are a critical step in the right direction. These projects address a gap in the data required to more fully understand WNS.