What Every Biologist Needs To Know

A Call To Action!

In early 2010, I traveled to Snowbird, Utah to attend the national conference of The Wildlife Society. It is there I presented a poster on my work with Ringtails in the Sutter Buttes, California. However, this trip would not have been possible without funding from Sacramento City College and The Wildlife Society. When I was awarded a travel grant from the Sacramento-Shasta Chapter of The Wildlife Society, they asked me to write an article for their newsletter, The Magpie. My article was published earlier this week. See below:
 
What Every Biologist Needs to Know
Written by Michael Starkey

Western Red Bat (Lasiurus blossevillii)
Some college students lie awake wondering how they’re going to pay their student loans, impress that sorority girl, or pass their Communications final. I lie awake at night worrying if the species I’m passionate about will still exist by the time I’m thirty.
In October of 2010, I attended the national conference of The Wildlife Society in Snowbird, Utah. I listened to many academics, resource agency biologists, and others discuss the effects of White-nose Syndrome on our bat populations in the eastern portion of the United States. Caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans, the infection is named for the white fungus found around the nose and wings of infected animals. This disease causes bats to use all of their fat reserves needed to get through the winter. Infected bats generally wake up early from hibernation and either freeze or starve to death. Discovered in February 2006 in a single cave in New York, White-nose Syndrome has since spread to 14 fourteen states, infected nine species and has killed more than a million bats. It is still spreading. Fourteen species of bats hibernate west of the Great Plains, and most, if not all, are potentially at risk for infection. Experts anticipate White-nose Syndrome will come to California within the next few years. At the conference, I heard biologists describe what it was like to walk into an infected cave. Each step sounds like the crackling of walking on pine needles, but these are the sounds of breaking wing bones of thousands of bats littering the cavern floor, all victims of the White-nose Syndrome. But what disturbed me most about this awful description was that I had heard this story before. This was not the first time I had heard first-hand accounts of an extinction crisis. I have seen the effects of another extinction crisis that has been going on for decades.
In 2008 I had the opportunity to travel to a little mountain town called El Valle in the cloud forests of Panama, where I was invited to the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC). A modern day ark, EVACC is a state-of- the-art facility that contains the last representatives of critically endangered amphibians, such as the famous Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki, which may be—or perhaps already is—extinct in the wild. Why are these species going extinct? There are many contributing factors, but it is the disease Chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which is causing amphibian declines all over the world. While its origin is unknown, this disease has spread to 36 different countries and is found on at least 385 species of amphibians. The EVACC goes to great efforts to care for these amphibians in the hope of re-populating the species–but scientists still have to stop the disease first.
With the rapid spread of Chytrid Fungus and White-nose Syndrome, we can only expect more species to become at risk. It is incredibly disheartening to me, as an emerging biologist, to see such devastation in populations. As biologists, we need to take action. It is up to us to halt the spread of these diseases, and the first step is to educate ourselves. To this end, we can: Visit websites run by organizations such as Save The Frogs! or Bat Conservation International; learn quarantine protocols and decontamination procedures; spread the word; and finally, join others in the biological community to combine efforts. On February 9, 2011, you will have the opportunity to learn more at the Western Section of The Wildlife Society Annual Meeting in Riverside California, where there will be a pre-conference symposium discussing these two fungal diseases. It is truly something that every biologist needs to know. I’ll see you there.
I would like to sincerely thank the board of the Sacramento-Shasta Chapter of The Wildlife Society for publishing this article within this newsletter. As we continue to lose species at an alarming rate, this information is crucial for not only biologists, but the general public, to see and understand.
I would also like to thank everyone that reads this article. As you have graced me with your time to help spread my cause. This situation is dire, and you have helped me and species around the world by absorbing this information. Please, pass it on. It is up us to make the changes necessary in order to keep these devastating events from continuing.
Thank you.
Sincerely,
Michael G. Starkey
California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense)
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