In celebration of National Bat Week, Gulf Power is joining Southern Company and its other subsidiaries in contributing to the Bats for the Future Fund, 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 first bat in Alabama found with White-Nose Syndrome, a tri-colored bat at Russell Cave National Monument. Photo credit William Stone.

Limestone caves are home to bats on Gulf Power property near the retired Plant Scholz in Sneads, Florida. These bats are regularly monitored by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The fund is the latest partnership between Gulf Power’s parent company Southern Company, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and others, to protect and preserve wildlife in the areas we serve. White-nose syndrome has been blamed for the deaths of more than 6 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 is receiving 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.

“No cases of white-nose syndrome have been found in Florida, yet. The fungus started in the Northeast and is spreading south and west,” said Kimberly Blair, Gulf Power spokesperson. “Gulf Power understands how important bats are to our ecosystem. As part of our promise to protect wildlife, we are excited to be able to participate in this new grant program that is funding important research that could help prevent the spread of this fungus to our area and restore populations in our neighboring states.”

Southeastern myotis, sometimes called a southeastern brown bat, fly out of a limestone cave at Plant Scholz in Sneads, Florida, in the 1990s. Bats still use the cave and others nearby.

Bats are key players in the delicate North American ecosystem, devouring mosquitos and other pests that can destroy crops like corn. Some studies estimate bats save the U.S. corn industry some $1 billion a year and the entire agriculture industry $3 billion a year. These projects will aid efforts to ensure bats carry out their important role in the ecosystem for generations.

Gulf Power with Southern Company and its other subsidiaries has a long history of environmental and conservation stewardship partnerships that benefit imperiled and at-risk species and the habitats they depend on.

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.

White-nose syndrome has not yet been documented in Florida but biologists continue monitoring Florida bats like this brown bat, doing all they can to ensure their survival. This is a great example of how FWC biologists handle bats using proper techniques so as to not transfer diseases. FWC photo by Kevin Oxenrider

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: Investigate 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: 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, visit www.nfwf.org/BFF.

Check out www.batweek.org for ways you can celebrate and help bats.

Learn more about Gulf Power’s Environmental Stewardship in “Our Promise.”