Akron researcher receives federal funding to help save North America bats from extinction


Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $1.8 million in grants for the research and management of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal infection that has killed millions of hibernating bats in eastern North America since it was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006-2007.

Among the grant recipients is Dr. Hazel Barton, an associate professor of biology at UA, who is being awarded $94,407 for her ongoing research. Barton, who is recognized as having one of the world's preeminent cave microbiology labs, is studying the fungus, as well as the Virginia big-eared bat and its innate immune response to WNS. She also is assisting on a study into biocontrol of white-nose syndrome by researchers at The Ohio State University and Bucknell University that received $223,009 in grant funding.

Extinction has dire repercussions

Because WNS can likely survive in caves, with or without the presence of bats, the regional extinction of North American bats is a very real threat. That, in turn, would have dire ecological consequences — a single bat can eat thousands of insects in a single night. Bats are critical to controlling bugs that threaten agriculture and forestry; their pest-control value to the economy is estimated in the billions of dollars. 

Since it was first discovered in hibernating bats in New York in winter 2006-07, WNS has spread across 22 states, including Ohio. In Vermont’s Aeolus Cave, which once housed 800,000 bats, WSN wiped out the hibernation den's entire population.

In all, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded eight projects at universities in New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“Bats are fascinating animals that are vital for a healthy environment. We are hopeful that these investments into research will get us closer to getting the upper hand on this devastating disease,” said Wendi Weber, co-chair of the White-Nose Syndrome Executive Committee and service northeast regional director.

Research yields better conservation methods

Since 2008, the service has granted more than $17.5 million to institutions and federal and state agencies for WNS research and response. This year’s grants are the second round of WNS research funding awarded by the service. $1.4 million was awarded to federal agencies that provided matching funds for research and response to the disease. Another $1.5 million is currently available for state wildlife agencies on Grants.gov.

“Scientists from around the world are working together to understand this disease, and to develop the tools to manage WNS and conserve our native bats,” said Dr. Jeremy Coleman, the service’s national WNS coordinator. “Findings from past research have led to improved methods for detecting P. destructans; development of potential tools to slow disease spread and treat infected bats, and the development of a national bat population monitoring program.”

Learn more about Barton’s work at UA researchers trace bat killer’s path.

For more information, visit the White-nose Syndrome Facebook page or follow tweets at White Nose Bats.

Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or henryd@uakron.edu.

Hazel Barton

Dr. Hazel Barton