This sign, posting cave access restrictions at Clifty Falls State Park in southern Indiana, is the Indiana Department of Natural Resource's response to the lethal threat posed by White-Nose Syndrome to various cave-inhabiting bat species. Similar efforts to restrict human access to bat-inhabited caves and sinkholes have been initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other state Departments of Natural Resources. Although not yet confirmed, reasonable concerns have arisen from these agencies that spores or hyphae attached to cave visitors' clothes may further spread the fungus to bats in uncontaminated caves. These concerns are the impetus that has prompted the cave closings.
Image taken with a Pentax K-7 (14 megapixel dSLR), 100mm f2.8 lens @f4 ISO 200. Image size reduced in Photoshop. The image was taken in Clifty Falls State Park at the entrance to Tunnel Falls hike. Image taken October 16, 2010.
White-Nose Syndrome is a bat disease that is still not well understood but is presumptively caused by the associated fungus Geomyces destructans. The disease is causing dramatic population declines in at least seven species of bats across the northeastern United States. Bats testing positive for the fungus have recently shown up in a few caves in the midwest, including Indiana, extending the range westward. The collapse of bat species in affected areas may have serious ecological and human impacts that stretch beyond the loss of our natural heritage. Bats are significant predators of night-flying insects. With the decline in bat populations it is reasonable to expect ecological imbalances leading to increases of insect populations, including mosquitoes. Increased populations of mosquitoes may result in an increase in mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and viral encephalitis. Therefore the efforts to protect bats in caves not only protects America's natural heritage but also aids in limiting the effects of mosquito-vector diseases.
1. Blehert, D. S., A. C. Hicks, M. Behr, C. U. Meteyer, B. M. Berlowski-Zier, E. L. Buckles, J. T. H. Coleman, S. R. Darling, A. Gargas, R. Niver, J. C. Okoniewski, R. J. Rudd, and W. B. Stone. 2008. Bat white-nose syndrome: an emerging fungal pathogen? Science 323:227.
2. Frick, W. F., J. F. Pollock, A. C. Hicks, K. E. Langwig, D. S. Reynolds, G. G. Turner, C. M. Butchkoski, T. H. Kunz. 2010. An emerging disease causes regional population collapse of a common North American bat species. Science 329:679–682.
3. Indiana Department of Natural Resources. DNR closes caves over bat disease concerns. http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/5404.htm.
4. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2011. Bat tests positive for white-nosed fungus. http://www.fws.gov/midwest/News/release.cfm?rid=344.
5. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2009. Cave activity discouraged to help protect bats from deadly white-nose syndrome.
6. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2011. White-nose syndrome: something is killing our bats. http://www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome/.
Photo Al Hicks. Permission of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation
Photo Nancy Hicks. Permission New York Department of Environmental Conservation