Bats Successfully Treated for White-Nose Syndrome Released Back into the Wild
For the first time, scientists have treated and healed bats infected with White-Nose Syndrome.
Hannibal, MO | May 20, 2015
Scientists and conservationists gathered Tuesday evening outside the historic Mark Twain Cave Complex in Hannibal, Missouri to release back into the wild some of the first bats successfully treated for deadly White-Nose Syndrome (WNS).
The 75 bats released Tuesday were part of the first field trials of a novel way to protect bats from WNS, which is caused by a cold-loving fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd). Pd was introduced into the United States about ten years ago and has killed more than 5.7 million American bats in the eastern half of the U. S. and Canada.
Pd invades the nose, mouth and wings of bats during hibernation, when bats’ immune systems are largely shut down. Research indicates that the fungus may lead to dehydration, causing them to wake more frequently and burn precious fat reserves. This leads to starvation. Science has yet to develop an effective, ecologically appropriate means of combatting the fungus, which may kill up to 100 percent of bats in an infected cave, but the recent field trials are the most promising yet.
In 2012, Dr. Christopher Cornelison and several colleagues at Georgia State University found that a common North America bacterium, Rhodococcus rhodochrous, had the ability to inhibit the growth of some fungi. They found in the lab that R. rhodochrous, without directly touching the Pd, could nonetheless strongly inhibit its growth.
Dr. Cornelison, U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Dr. Sybill Amelon and research plant pathologist Dr. Daniel Lindner have been conducting laboratory research on the application of this bacterium since 2012, and this past winter conducted field trials in Missouri and Kentucky caves. Funding for this research was provided in part by Bat Conservation International (BCI), the U.S. Forest Service and the Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
The bats released Tuesday survived exposure to WNS in last winter’s trials. Participants at the bat release have expressed cautious optimism. “While more research is needed before we know if our current discovery in an effective and environmentally safe treatment for White-Nose Syndrome, we are very encouraged,” said the U. S. Forest Service’s Michael T. Rains, who directs the Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “We are extremely grateful for the support of Bat Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, and honored to be collaborating with Georgia State University on research that has potential to reduce mortality of bats in the face of this devastating disease.”
Multi-agency collaboration has been a vital component of the search for a treatment for White-Nose Syndrome. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads the national collaborative response to White-Nose Syndrome and provides most of the federal funding for WNS research. Many state wildlife agencies contribute staff and funds of their own in surveying for the fungus as it has traveled north, south and west from New York, where it was first discovered.
Last winter’s field trials were made possible with help from the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Kentucky Department of Conservation and the privately owned Mark Twain Cave Complex, among others. “Through our collaboration with USFS, BCI, TNC as well as the states of Kentucky and Missouri, we have been able to make tremendous strides in the development of tools to control the mortality associated with WNS,” said Dr. Cornelison. Dr. Amelon concurred, describing the collaborations as “immensely gratifying.”
Preventing further mass die-offs from White-Nose Syndrome has been a primary goal for Bat Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee and their state and federal partners. BCI has been funding research on WNS since its discovery. “We have a long way to go, but are pleased to see such progress being made to control the WNS fungus,” said Katie Gillies, Director of Imperiled Species, U.S./Canada for BCI. “The work that the U. S. Forest Service and Georgia State University have completed to date bring us closer to managing this devastating disease. It’s imperative that we continue to support such management-based research to ensure the future of North America’s bats.”
This work would not be possible without the contribution of private donors including the Evergreen II Fund, the Shared Earth Foundation, the Berglund Family Foundation, the Woodtiger Fund, Daniel Maltz, the Leo Model Foundation, Inc., and the Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. The partnership between BCI and TNC has helped raise the profile on this issue through joint philanthropic efforts. Together, BCI and TNC hope to continue supporting such critical research efforts.
“Through our partnership with BCI, The Nature Conservancy believes bio-controls can hold the key to a cure for WNS. We want to do more to accelerate this type of work,” said Gina Hancock, state director, The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee.
Bats are critical to the health of natural ecosystems and globally play an essential role in pollination, tropical reforestation and pest management. They are believed to save US farmers an average of $23 billion annually in reduced crop damage and lower pesticide use. More than 1,331 species of bats have been discovered worldwide, and more are being found each year.
Bat Conservation International, with offices in Washington DC and Austin TX, is the only organization dedicated to the conservation of the world’s 1331+ species of bats. For more information about bats and BCI, visit www.batcon.org or call (512) 367-9721.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global. To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.