Bats battle extinction



Photo by Myles Womack/CityLifestyle Reporter
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Vicky Smith, owner of A-Z Animals, handles a bat and while explaining its recovery.


Myles Womack
CityLifestyle Reporter
mjw3@uab.edu




More than 6 million bats have died over the past decade from “white-nose syndrome” or WNS and in some places have vanished in large amounts, according to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation [NFWF]. 

“The situation is dire and is threatening several species of bats,” said Amanda Bassow, NFWF Regional Director. “The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation was created by Congress over 30 years ago to help promote the conservation efforts of both public and private research entities.”


NFWF has also grown to become the country’s largest conservation grant-maker in the country.

“I have visited some sites that once had over 1,000 bats and now only have 5,” said Winifred Frick, Ph.D. and Senior Director of Conservation Science with the Bat Conservation International. “The disease was first seen in New York and the Northeast, then moved through the Appalachians, and now in the Southeast.” 

'More than half of the 47 species of bats that live in the United States hibernate in mines and caves during the winter. “Bats need healthy forest and healthy forest need bats,” said Dennis Krusac.

Endangered Species Specialist of the USDA Forest Service.

“Bats are extremely important to the ecosystem.”  

The U.S. Forest Service will use the grant money to fund the different projects to help reduce the fungal loading of WNS. One of the tests used is seeing how effective the use of ultra-violet light to kill the Pseudogymnoascus destructans which is the fungus responsible for WNS in bats.

The fungus begins growing on the bats causing them to wake up early from hibernation and exert energy, damaging tissue which ultimately kills them.

“When bats hibernate their temperature goes down within about one to a few degrees of the cave temperature and this fungus can thrive within the cave environment,” said Robert Tawes, Regional Chief of Environmental Review with the USFWS.  

The WNS has now been documented in 33 states and 7 Canadian provinces and if continues to go unchecked 11 of the 47 bats could possibly face extinction. 

“Bats have been long misunderstood as the sinister creatures of the night,” said Tawes. “Bats are farmers best friend and it is important to support the research leading to white-nose syndrome. Ruffner Mountain is where we are testing some of those promising new treatments.” 

Ruffner Mountain has been serving as a surveillance site for bats affected by WNS for two years.

“Finding a place where we can work and still have enough bats to work with is really rare in the Southeast,” said Pete Pattavina, the USFWS Southeastern White-nose Syndrome Coordinator. 

About two years ago Ruffner Mountain had its first winter count of bats located in the mines under Ruffner Mountain.

“This is sort of the Southern disease front where we are trying to put a lot of these treatments at the front line of where the disease is and this [Ruffner Mountain] is one of the few places we can actually work in the Southeast. The bats we work with are the weigh about 5 grams, they’re about the same size as a nickel,” said Pattavina. Bat Conservation International first called Pattavina to be the Coordinator in the Southeast and to originally to work on a mine in Arkansas. The Ruffner Mountain staff was able to put in a “statistically powerful and experimental design” within the mine said Pattavina.  

“The sister site in Arkansas said that we should look at the Ruffner mine because we have a high number of tricolored bats and luckily we have such a helpful staff here at Ruffner that donate a lot of their time to make this research happen,” Pattavina said. 

The circles drawn on the wall of the main room in Ruffner Mountain’s office building represents the treatments for WNS along with a couple of control plots.  

“We’re going to look at how the fungal load is in those circles,” Pattavina said. “If some of the treatments work we might apply it to the entire mine, mines across the Southeast and maybe across North America in order to try to restore habitats so that when bats come in during the winter time they can experience a less severe infection and less fungal load. We hope that we can keep some bats in the landscape.”

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