I traveled to Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky a few weekends ago with my Surficial Processes class. It was pretty fantastic, especially seeing as I had never been caving before. We were able to tour part of the longest cave system in the world, and saw stalactites and stalagmites, anastomoses, cave popcorn, and so much more. Among this, too, was our occasional bat sighting which was definitely a highlight.
Our guides were telling us about how there’s been a recent onset of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) seen in much of the Northeast United States, recognized by the trademark white fungus growing around the muzzles of the bats, though there have been no confirmed cases in Mammoth Cave itself. First observed in 2006, WNS has spread significantly in the last four years, now beginning to be seen not only in the Northeast where discovered, but in some states as far south as Tennessee, as well. Cave visitors should be aware of the impact they could have on cave wildlife, because the spread of the Syndrome could be caused by contaminated visitors and their belongings (gear, clothes, etc.) as they travel from cave to cave.
The increasing occurrence of White Nose Syndrome is exceptionally unfortunate for various reasons; the first and most obvious being the drastic decrease in bat numbers across the span of several states. Along with this, however, come other very noticeable negative impacts, particularly to the agricultural sector. Because of the severe decline in bat populations, especially in the Northeast region, an increase in insects has been observed and will only grow higher as time progresses. Not only is this natural pesticide diminishing, but so too is a valuable source of composting material as a result: bat guano. Bat guano contains high traces of phosphorus, which can be an extremely beneficial and important component of the composting process.
I’ve been recently working with Dr. Yates in the Biology department to begin putting in bat houses across Furman’s campus which will hopefully attract bats in the area, and will serve to increase not only our pest control on campus (beneficial for the Organic Garden) but also our guano accessibility for composting. The first bat house is expected to be installed by the Organic Garden, and will be a memorial for my cousin, Jonathan.
To learn more about White Nose Syndrome, visit: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html .