Caver knowledge and biosecurity attitudes towards white-nose syndrome and implications for global spread.
White-nose syndrome (WNS), caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has caused catastrophic declines of bat populations in North America. Risk assessment indicates that cavers could pose a risk for the spread of the fungus, however, information on cavers' knowledge of WNS and their caving and biosecurity habits is lacking. An anonymous qualitative survey was completed by delegates (n = 134) from 23 countries at an international speleological conference in Sydney, Australia. Cavers indicated that they visit caves frequently (80.6% at least bimonthly), including outside of their own country, but 20.3% of respondents did not know about WNS prior to the conference. Some respondents were incorrect, or unsure, about whether they had visited caves in countries where P. destructans occurs (26.5%) or whether their own country was free of the fungus (7.8%). Although 65.9% of respondents were aware of current decontamination protocols, only 23.9% and 31.2% (when in Australian or overseas caves, respectively) fully adhered to them. Overall, cavers showed strong willingness to help prevent further spread of this disease, but further efforts at education and targeted biosecurity activities may be urgently needed to prevent the spread of P. destructans to Australia and to other unaffected regions of the world.