Joseph Hoyt, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB), has been awarded a Switzer Environmental Fellowship from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. The prestigious fellowship recognizes promising environmental leaders and provides $15,000 to support their research.
Hoyt studies the ecology of infectious wildlife diseases, with a focus on white-nose syndrome in bats. White-nose syndrome is a deadly fungal disease that was first detected in North America in 2006 and has since killed millions of bats. Hoyt's contributions include a study identifying strains of bacteria that occur naturally on bat skin and inhibit the growth of the fungus. Trials are under way to see if the bacteria can be effective in limiting the spread of the disease.
Hoyt works with EEB professor Marm Kilpatrick and associate adjunct professor Winifred Frick, who lead several major research projects on white-nose syndrome at UC Santa Cruz. In 2014, he traveled to northeast China to find out if the disease, known to exist in Europe, also occurs in Asia. With support from the National Science Foundation, Hoyt partnered with researchers from the Northeast Normal University in Changchun, China, to explore caves in search of the deadly fungus. They detected the disease in 9 out of twelve sites and later confirmed its presence in 75 percent of samples comprising three species. Hoyt and his colleagues hope to glean helpful clues from Asian and European bat species, which may be more resilient than their counterparts in North America.
Hoyt has also participated in the development and implementation of the National White-Nose Syndrome Plan in partnership with tribal, state, and federal agencies. Hoyt said he wants to continue using research to shape policy to prevent the spread of wildlife pathogens.
Since its 1986 inception, the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation has awarded nearly $15 million through its Environmental Fellowship Program and other grant programs.