The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving money to Minnesota and other Midwestern states to monitor bat populations for white-nose disease, which is caused by a fungus and has wiped out bat populations in parts of the eastern United States.
Cases have been found in Illinois and Iowa, and it's only a matter of time before the disease reaches Minnesota, said national research coordinator Jeremy Coleman.
"Most scientists feel the spread north into the Great Lakes states, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and into the plains of Canada," Coleman said, "it's not a question of if, it's a question of when."
Researchers are still trying to understand the disease and what happens when bat populations are wiped out, he said.
"Are we going to see repercussions in insect populations and forest crop damage or agricultural crop damage?" Coleman said. "We're kind of living a natural experiment right now."
They are also looking at caves in states where the disease has not been found yet, hoping to find natural bacteria to stop the fungus.
The disease is spread by migrating bats, but Coleman said the fungus can also be spread by people who explore caves and don't properly disinfect their gear.