It has been over five years since scientists first detected a deadly white-nose fungus in an upstate New York cave and current estimates claim that 6.7 million bats have died in 16 states and Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.
The estimate was produced from research by wildlife officials in the Northeast where the disease is thought to have originated and have worried biologist who fear that several bat species may not recover.
"In states like New York and Vermont and southern Ontario, we anticipate that the overall population is probably impacted on the order of 90-plus percent," Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator at the National Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Washington Post.
The estimates were drawn from data by state biologists and mathematical models that aim to determine specific losses within certain geographical regions where the fungus is known to have spread.
"This startling new information illustrates the severity of the threat that white-nose syndrome poses for bats, as well as the scope of the problem facing our nation," said Dan Ashe, Fish and Wildlife Service Director.
The numbers also lead experts to caution that if something is not done soon there may not be any more brown bats, northern long-eared bats or tricolored bats in North America.
"We're watching a potential extinction event on the order of what we experienced with bison and passenger pigeons for this group of mammals," said Mylea Bayless, conservation programs manager for Bat Conservation International.
"The difference is we may be seeing the regional extinction of multiple species," Bayless said. "Unlike some of the extinction events or population depletion events we've seen in the past, we're looking at a whole group of animals here, not just one species. We don't know what that means, but it could be catastrophic."
White-nose syndrome is caused by an aggressive fungus called Geomyces destructans that eats through the skin and membranes of bats. It was first detected in caves near Albany, N.Y., in 2006.