Mark Twain National Forest will keep caves closed to the public through April of 2016.
Geomyces destructans, the fungus responsible for White Nose Syndrome, has now been detected in Missouri. White Nose Syndrome has not yet been confirmed in the state.
"White Nose Syndrome continues to affect bats in several eastern and midwestern states," said Theresa Davidson, Mark Twain National Forest wildlife biologist. "Scientists are reasonably certain that transmission of White Nose Syndrome is occurring human to bat, bat to bat and cave to bat."
Mark Twain National Forest first closed caves to the public in April of 2009, then continued the closure for another year in 2010.
Mark Twain Forest is home to more than 600 caves. Missouri is home to 14 kinds of bats, many of them living in caves, some on the endangered species list. Davidson said bats are important to ecosystems because they eat millions of insects every night and their loss in record numbers could have major impacts on natural communities.
In addition to giving scientists more time to study the causes of White Nose Syndrome, Davidson said closing the caves allows bats to hibernate undisturbed. Disturbances during hibernation can cause bats to wake up and lose fat that they need to get through the hibernation period, increasing their already high mortality rate.
Scientists have good reason to suspect the transmission of White Nose Syndrome is connected to human activity because of the geographical nature of the spread from New York to West Virginia to Virginia.
White Nose Syndrome has appeared in hibernacula frequented by cavers, while it remains undetected in nearby hibernacula not used by cavers. Records of caver movements in this area reveal connections among White Nose Syndrome-affected sites.
"Our objective is to minimize exposure of bat populations to any clothing or equipment that may be carrying the fungus responsible for White Nose Syndrome," said David Whittekiend, Mark Twain National Forest supervisor. "We appreciate the public's support in staying out of caves to help bats survive."
Mark Twain National Forest is the largest public land manager in Missouri with 1.5 million acres in 29 counties in southern and central Missouri. The forest's mission is to continue to restore Missouri's outdoors and maintain a healthy, working forest.
For more information about Mark Twain National Forest, visit www.fs.usda.gov/mtnf.