Researchers say the discovery of a deadly fungal disease in a Warren County cave spells more trouble for the region’s bat populations.
A team of National Park Service scientists found evidence of White Nose Syndrome in Crumps Cave in northern Warren County, near the town of Smiths Grove. WKU owns several acres of land around the cave and operates a research and education preserve there.
White Nose Syndrome, for which there is no known cure, is blamed for the deaths of millions of bats in North America since its discovery in 2006.
The team of NPS researchers observed 53 Tri-colored bats inside Crumps Cave on Feb. 10, with a dozen of them displaying signs of White Nose Syndrome. The disease causes bats to prematurely awaken from their hibernation and leave the cave, which exposes them to freezing conditions. Affected bats use up vital energy and nutrients that are necessary for their survival.
The syndrome was discovered in 2013 in Mammoth Cave National Park, and has led to an 80 percent decline in some bat species found there.
“There are bats that, prior to the discovery of White Nose, were doing just fine, and had very healthy populations, and now are potentially in danger of extinction,” said Dr. Chris Groves, Distinguished Professor of Hydrogeology at WKU.
Groves serves on the management team at WKU Crumps Cave Research and Education Preserve, and has requested help from the NPS in creating an inventory of bats found in the cave and evaluation of conditions for White Nose Syndrome.
If the disease continues to spread and kill high numbers of bats, the region’s ecosystem could be damaged. Bats are prolific eaters of pests, such as mosquitos. The agriculture industry could also be impacted.
While research continues into finding a cure for White Nose, biologists have set up programs designed to reduce the chance that humans who enter caves leave with the fungus on them. White Nose doesn’t harm humans, but it’s possible that a person could unwittingly come into contact with the fungus and spread it to another area upon exiting the cave.