Who cares about WNS?

Just over a week ago I received an email with some difficult questions about white-nose syndrome. This wasn’t just any email, the questions were extremely insightful, and the author had put a lot of thought into making connections between the scientific literature on WNS and the physiological effects of WNS on bats; comparing Geomyces destructans and other fungal pathogens in the environment; and exploring public sentiment about bats, their import in the environment and to our economy and culture.

I am accustomed to getting really thoughtful emails and questions about WNS in bats, but this email was particularly meaningful to me because it came from a 9th grader. She had read an article about WNS in the December 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine (Bat Crash by David Qaummen), and was inspired to write a research paper on white-nose syndrome in bats. She dug into the literature, formulated her own hypotheses, contacted the scientists working on this devastating disease, and found her way to me and the other US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and communicators working on WNS.

I can’t recall the topics of research papers I wrote as a 9th grader, but I am fairly certain that it wasn’t until college that my scientific self came into being on the level of this student’s inquiry. And not only did she want to ask the really hard questions about WNS and learn more about bats, she wanted to DO SOMETHING: start an awareness campaign, learn how she could help raise money for WNS research, teach other people about why bats are important, and why they should be paying attention to WNS.

This got me to thinking about my job and what inspires me and the people I work with every day to buckle down and figure this thing out.

So… who cares about WNS?

Biologists, mycologists, students and research scientists in fields as seemingly disassociated with bats as the military research and mechanical engineering.

Federal and state employees, cavers, environmentalists, bat conservationists, farmers and foresters.

And at least one extremely bright young woman who has not yet learned to drive a car, had a full-time job, or even seen a bat in person.

I asked this young woman if she would like to write a short blog post for our WNS blog, and she kindly agreed. I’ve posted what she had to say below.

Hello everyone! I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. I am a 9th grader in Washington State. Two weeks ago, I was trying to conjure up a topic for a research paper. I was flipping through the December 2010 issue of National Geographic when I happened upon an article called “Bat Crash,” regarding the epizootic that has wiped out more than 1 million North American bats (p. 126-137). I was utterly mortified at my oblivion to “white nose syndrome.” Soon, I realized that I am not to blame for my ignorance. The public is largely unaware of “white nose syndrome.” My English assignment required me to ask the question: “So what?” Before this assignment, I knew literally nothing about bats. I subscribed to the popular definition of bats as spooky Halloween creatures. Now I know how important bats are to the ecosystem and the economy. The more I read, the more I became convinced that WNS is causing some major league problems for bats in North America. Experts like David Blehert informed me that the outlook isn’t good. I am confident that if people are cognizant of WNS, they will take the bull by the horns. After all, scientists can’t do it alone. They need public support to make a difference. In June 2009, Thomas Kunz outlined the need for over $45 million over the next five years. Congress appropriated just $1.9 million for FWS to combat WNS in 2010. The bats need the help of ordinary laymen like you and me. In the down economy, it is vital for people to understand how WNS will impact them and their children and grandchildren. We need public awareness!

From those of us who work on WNS every day, I thank this young woman and everyone who cares about WNS, no matter your background, scientific specialization, age or organizational affiliation.