General News

Groundbreaking New Projects Bring Hope for Bats

Published on October 24, 2017
Written by Micaela Jemison

Bats For The Future Fund Announcement
Bats For The Future Fund Announcement
From left: Marti Powers, Shell US External Relations Manager,
Amanda Bassow, NFWF Regional Director,
Paul Phifer, USFWS Assistant Director,
Dr. Winifred Frick, Bat Conservation International Senior Director
of Conservation Science, Photo courtesy of Winifred Frick

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced more than $1.36 million in grants to launch the most aggressive effort ever to develop new scientific breakthroughs in the fight against White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a merciless disease that has killed more than six million bats in North America. 

The grants were awarded through the Bats for the Future Fund (BFF), a creative public-private partnership between NFWF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Shell Oil Company and Southern Company.

The projects supported by the six grants announced today will test a variety of potential breakthrough treatments including a promising vaccine, a probiotic “cocktail," anti-fungal agents, microclimate optimization, and treatment with ultraviolet light.

“Bats are facing the biggest challenge they have ever faced,” said Mike Daulton, Executive Director of Bat Conservation International. “This funding is a critical lifeline. The Bats for the Future Fund is like a rescue helicopter on a mountain. It’s that important to the survival of these bats.”

Bat Conservation International is proud to be working in partnership with some the country’s leading researchers on two of the groundbreaking projects.

Creating New Refuges to Help Bats Survive

Bat Conservation International is collaborating with Dr. Liam McGuire from Texas Tech University, and Dr. Justin Boyles from Southern Illinois University to investigate the feasibility of optimizing climate conditions in mines as a strategy for reducing the severity of White-nose Syndrome (WNS) in tri-colored bats, Perimyotis subflavus, in Texas.

“We are partnering with leading bat researchers to develop a promising new line of inquiry, investigating our ability to create a new type of refuge for bats,” explains Winifred Frick, Senior Director of Conservation Science for Bat Conservation International. “By optimizing the climatic conditions of mines or caves this research hopes to create places where bats have a much better chance to survive White-nose Syndrome as it moves across the landscape.”

This project will assess whether the severity of the disease in tri-colored bats can be minimized by the optimization of microclimate conditions, like temperature and humidity. The project will also assess how bats’ behavioral responses affect their survival. This research will determine whether it is possible to predict which individuals will be most severely affected by WNS, and assess the impact of microclimates on the growth of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the fungus that causes WNS.


Treating White-nose Syndrome on the Disease Front

Bat Conservation International is collaborating with Dr. Maarten Vonhof of Western Michigan University and Dr. Tim Carter of Ball State University to test a newly developed antifungal agent, Chitosan, in halting the progression White-nose Syndrome in Michigan and Texas.

“Chitosan is the most promising treatment that is game-ready to apply in the field. We are determined to bring potential lifesaving treatment to the bats that are most vulnerable and to do it as soon as we possibly can. Chitosan s has already been tested in both field and lab trials and has been shown to kill the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, without harming bats or other microbiota,” explains Frick.

Chitosan also stimulates wound healing, and is a candidate to decrease infection rates and limit tissue damage incurred by WNS-infected bats.

“Bat Conservation International is proud to have funded the earlier field trails of Chitosan and we are excited to be now working directly with the researchers to find ways to scale up treatment and give bats the best chance to survive,” says Frick.
The project will test if Chitosan is able to halt the progression of Pd in Texas, and if it is able to improve bat survival and decrease fungal loads in already infected roost sites in Michigan.