According to this press release:
Scientists have proven that the fungus Geomyces destructans causes white-nose syndrome, a fast-spreading and highly lethal disease of bats.
Research published today (Wednesday, Oct. 26) in the journal Nature provides the first direct evidence that this fungus is responsible for a disease that is decimating bats in North America.
Research at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and other institutions, showed that 100 percent of healthy little brown bats exposed to G. destructans developed white-nose syndrome while hibernating in captivity.
The study fulfilled established criteria for proving that a microbe causes an infectious disease: A pure culture of a suspected pathogen is able to infect a host plant or animal, which then develops the clinical signs of the disease, and then the pathogen is re-isolated from the experimentally infected host species.
White-nose syndrome is a skin infection that often begins around the muzzle, but the exact mechanism of mortality is unknown.
"By identifying the causative agent of white-nose syndrome, this study provides information that is critical for developing management strategies to preserve vulnerable bat populations and the ecosystem services that they provide in the U.S. and Canada," says study author David Blehert, a microbiologist at the Wildlife Health Center, and a honorary fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UW-Madison.
So sad what is happening to members of this spectacular radiation of mammals. And there are pragmatic implications too--they eat insects, they pollinate, etc. Researchers a few months back wrote a provocative editorial in Science (or Nature?) about the economic implications of a bat species population decline. It was sobering and sad.
What's with the weird emergent fungal diseases? First the frogs, now the bats...
Unsurprising but still sad. But definitively identifying the cause may help lead to treatments. Right now, we know that common pharamceutical antifungals are very effective against it -- what we don't have is a remotely practical means of delivering them to hibernating bats, and that means either we need such a method or we need a new treatment that can kill the fungus without harming the bats or their prey. And time is rapidly running out for these massive innovations that are required.