Southern Company Pledges $100K in Battle Against Fungus Threatening Vital Bat Populations

News Center Stories

October 24, 2017

Southern Company Pledges $100K in Battle Against Fungus Threatening Vital Bat Populations

ATLANTA  – Southern Company and its subsidiaries are contributing $100,000 to the Bats for the Future Fund (BFF), a new stewardship program aimed at finding a cure for a fungus that could leave some North American bat species on the brink of extinction.

The Fund is the latest partnership between Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and others to protect and preserve wildlife in the areas we serve. White-nose syndrome (WNS) has been blamed for the deaths of more than six million bats over the past decade. The fungus attacks hibernating bats and, in some areas of the U.S., has wiped out nearly the entire bat population.

The program, which will receive a total of $1.36 million in grants, will fund the testing of a variety of treatments. Those treatments include a vaccine, a probiotic “cocktail,” anti-fungal disinfectants and ultraviolet light treatments.

Bats are key players in the delicate North American ecosystem, devouring pests that can destroy crops like corn. Some studies estimate bats save the U.S. corn industry some $1 billion a year and $3 billion a year for the entire agriculture industry.

"Southern Company and its subsidiaries have a long history of involvement in environmental and conservation partnerships that benefit imperiled and at-risk species and the habitats they depend on,” says Jeff Burleson, Southern Company environmental and system planning vice president.

“These projects will aid efforts to ensure bats carry out their important role in the ecosystem for generations through broad applications where bats are affected by white-nose syndrome."

The Bats for the Future Fund is a public-private partnership involving Southern Company, NFWF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and Shell Oil Company. Initial investments to the fund from all contributors total $1.36 million.

Six BFF research grants were awarded to the following organizations:

Western Michigan University – Field Application of Chitosan to Improve Survival and Halt Progression of WNS at the Disease Front

Chitosan is a powerful biocidal agent that kills the fungal agent causing WNS without affecting the growth of native cave fungi at applied concentrations. Treatment of bats with chitosan decreases pathology associated with the disease and increases bat survival.

U.S. Forest Service – Ultra-violet Light as a Treatment for WNS of Bats

Laboratory-based survival testing of UV light as a cost-effective control strategy for increasing survival of WNS-affected bats to determine whether larger scale field trials and development of UV delivery

equipment are warranted. The fungal agent that causes WNS is extremely sensitive to DNA-damaging agents such as UV light, so it can selectively kill the fungus on bats while minimizing impacts to normal skin microbes found on bats.

Texas Tech University – Manipulating Microclimates to Reduce WNS Severity

Researchers will investigate the feasibility of microclimate manipulation as a strategy for reducing disease severity in bats affected by WNS through a captive hibernation approach. Environmental conditions affect both bats and fungus; manipulating such conditions in hibernacula may minimize disease severity and increase survival. Results of the research will provide critical insight into the most effective microclimate manipulation targets and how both bats and fungus will respond to these manipulations.

Thompson Rivers University – Developing a Prophylactic Probiotic Approach to Reduce WNS Severity

Researchers will develop a probiotic prophylaxis for the prevention of WNS to delay or prevent the growth of the fungus that causes WNS for a critical portion of the winter. With this boost, the treatment may enable bats to successfully survive hibernation and establish a new method to reduce WNS mortality.

Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania – Determining the Effectiveness of PEG8000 to Inhibit Growth of the Fungus Causing WNS in Bat Hibernacula

Field test the effectiveness of treating caves with Polyethylene Glycol 8000 (PEG) to inhibit the growth of the fungal agent that causes WNS. PEG is an osmoticum and induces matric stress. The project also will test the non-target effects of PEG on the microbial community during environmental application at bat hibernation sites.

U.S. Geologic Survey, National Wildlife Health Center – Develop and Test Vaccine Candidates Against WNS in Bats

Further develop and evaluate several vaccine candidates that show promise in reducing bat morbidity and mortality from WNS. Test methods for delivering vaccines to bats in both field and laboratory settings.

To learn more about the Bats for the Future Fund or to download the 2017 Bats for the Future Fund Grant Slate, visit www.nfwf.org/bats.