NEW YORK  (October 4, 2016) A four-year $2.5 million study was launched on September 27th by the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and partnering institutions to help scientists understand White Nose Syndrome (WNS)—a deadly disease encroaching on western bats.

 “This is a particularly catastrophic wildlife pathogen,“ said Dr. Sarah Olson of WCS, Associate Director of the Wildlife Health Program and Principal Investigator (PI) of the study. “We know it causes high mortality in eastern bats. As this fungal pathogen spreads across the West, it will likely remain in the environment and impact bats indefinitely.”

WNS disrupts the energy balance of bats during hibernation. Diseased bats have more frequent arousals during hibernation and, as a result, quickly use up limited fat stores. Scientists have theorized that a bio-energetic model can be used to predict which species will survive the disease and which species will succumb. To test this model, the study will collect in-depth information on western species including precise measurement of body fat and energy use during hibernation.  

First identified in New York State in 2006, WNS is a fungal disease causing widespread mortality and threatening some eastern bat species with extinction.

There are 31 bat species in western North America. These species represent an important component of biodiversity, insect control, and other ecosystem services.

In March of 2016, hikers in Washington State discovered a diseased bat that was later confirmed to have WNS. This was the first recorded occurrence of the disease in western North America, which until that point had been found in 27 U.S. eastern and mid-west states and five Canadian provinces. The survival of bat species is threatened at the local, regional and continental scale, and the confirmed presence of the disease in a western bat highlights the urgent need for the planned research.

WCS Canada Bat Specialist and advisor to the study, Dr. Cori Lausen spoke about the timeliness of this study, “Our research has taken on an increased level of urgency, knowing that managers desperately need predictive survivorship information to prioritize mitigation efforts and target conservation actions for the many species of western bats.”

Montana State University’s Dr. Raina Plowright, co-PI of the study said, “Our team combines expertise in disease ecology, bat ecology, bat physiology, mathematical modeling, and landscape ecology. By looking at the system from these multiple angles, we will identify the key processes that determine if a bat species can, or cannot survive WNS.”

Advanced knowledge of which western bat species and populations are susceptible to WNS is critical. This information can be used to target interventions and strengthen conservation approaches near identified refuges for populations anticipated to survive infection.

“Maps of current and future bat habitat will help to paint a picture of how species susceptible to WNS might shift their distribution under a changing climate, within and around military installations,” said co-PI Dr. Brett Dickson of Conservation Science Partners. “By knowing when, where, and under what environmental conditions these shifts are likely to occur, managers can be strategic about the identification and protection of susceptible populations.”

The study is funded by an award from the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP;–the Department of Defense’s environmental science and technology program that is executed in partnership with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Co-PI Dr. David Hayman of Massey University said, “This study is important because it sets a precedent for how governments and managers may use simultaneous modelling and data collection to understand how a disease epidemic may affect wildlife populations in real time.”

Texas Tech University’s Dr. Liam McGuire said, “Bats are a major player in whatever ecosystem they’re in. They perform many important roles and it is difficult to predict how things will change if bats die in large numbers.”

The research project titled, "Assessing white-nose syndrome in the context of non-stationary conditions in an advancing continental epidemic," builds on Dr. Cori Lausen's collaborative work with Dr. David Hayman and Dr. Sarah Olson. The award will support four years of fieldwork and analyses.




About the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is a US nonprofit, tax-exempt, private organization established in 1895 that saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. With long-term commitments in dozens of landscapes, presence in more than 60 nations, and experience helping to establish over 150 protected areas across the globe, WCS has amassed the biological knowledge, cultural understanding and partnerships to ensure that vibrant, wild places and wildlife thrive alongside local communities. WCS was the first conservation organization with a dedicated team of wildlife veterinarians and other health professionals deployed around the world. The WCS Wildlife Health Program focuses on problem-solving at the wildlife / domestic animal / human health and livelihoods interface, as underpinned by a foundation of environmental stewardship. Visit: Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.


About WCS Canada

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada was incorporated as a conservation organization in Canada in 2004.  The mission of WCS Canada is to conserve wildlife and wild places by understanding the issues, developing science-based solutions, and working with others to carry out conservation actions across Canada. WCS Canada is distinguished from other environmental organizations through our role in generating science through field and applied research, and by using our results to encourage collaboration among scientific communities, organizations and policy makers to achieve conservation results.


About TTU

Texas Tech University, located in Lubbock, Texas, is home to almost 36,000 graduate and undergraduate students from throughout the United States and the world. It was established in 1923 and offers more than 150 degrees through 13 colleges and dozens of research-focused centers and institutes. Texas Tech, which is the only university in Texas to share its campus with a medical school and a law school, received designation as a National Research University from the State of Texas in 2012, and in 2016 the Carnegie Foundation named it a Tier One research institution. Texas Tech’s total research awards increased 39 percent from 2013 to 2015, while average SAT scores of the 2015 freshman class were 20 points higher than the previous fall semester.


About MSU

Montana State University is a public university located in Bozeman, Montana. It was founded in 1893 as the state’s land-grant institution and prides itself on its tripartite mission of excellence in teaching and learning, research and creative projects and outreach and service. With an enrollment of more than 15,600 students, MSU is the largest university in the state. It is also the largest research university in Montana and the largest research and development entity of any kind in Montana, with annual research expenditures typically exceeding $100 million annually. Through its colleges, MSU offers baccalaureate degrees in more than 50 fields, master's degrees in more than 40 fields, and doctoral degrees in approximately 20 fields. To learn more, visit


About Massey U

Massey University is New Zealand's largest and most influential educational institution with around 32,500 students. It calls itself New Zealand’s defining university because its areas of specialized teaching and world-class research reflect what New Zealand and New Zealanders are best known for – agrifood innovation and the associated disciplines such as public health, animal welfare, farming and food technology, design, creative arts, social sciences, and business. It has five colleges (faculties), around 3000 full-time equivalent staff and the nation’s largest university-based distance education program, allowing students to study from anywhere in the world.


About CSP

Conservation Science Partners (CSP; is a nonprofit scientific collective established to meet the analytical and research needs of diverse stakeholders in conservation outcomes on public and private lands. The mission of CSP is to apply human ingenuity to the preservation of species, populations, and ecosystems using scientific principles, innovative approaches, and lasting partnerships with conservation practitioners. CSP connects the best minds in conservation science to solve environmental problems in a comprehensive, flexible, and service-oriented manner. The core capabilities of CSP span a wide spectrum of geospatial and statistical techniques, from custom ecological and environmental data development (GIS and remote sensing based) to advanced analyses of landscape patterns and changes at multiple spatial and temporal scales.