Researchers say a deadly fungus that nearly wiped out species of North American bats has yet to spread to British Columbia, giving them valuable time to study whether probiotics prevent disease .
BC scientists have been researching the effect of the bacteria-filled powder on white-nose syndrome for the past three years.
The situation forces the bats to wake up from hibernating and use their energy to clear the fungus from their bodies.
The small brown Myotis bat was once thought to be the most populous species of bat in North America. Disease has decimated them, and the species was declared endangered by the federal government in 2012, six years after the first case of white nose syndrome was documented on the continent.
The first bat with the syndrome was discovered in Washington state in 2016.
‘get out in front’
Corey Lawsen, a biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, said experts were expecting the disease to spread to the West more quickly than it did in the East, but it did not.
“As far as we know, this is inherent to Washington and it’s good news for our bats and our program, as we try to get out of the disease and use a preventive or prophylaxis approach, And that’s where probiotics come in.”
BC bats often nurse their young in the summer, and this is where researchers have been administering probiotics since 2019.
Lausanne said his team will spray the probiotic this spring at three research sites in Vancouver.
‘Similar to people taking probiotic pills’
He said scientists spray a small amount of water into the bat box, followed by a powdered soil containing probiotic cells. Once the bats enter the box, a layer of dust is transferred onto their bodies and wings.
“The bacteria tend to grow on the feathers with all their natural bacteria. It’s similar to people taking probiotic pills, except the microbes we’re trying to grow are on the feathers because that’s where the fungus whitens.” Happens—the nasal syndrome escalates,” she said.
The probiotic is a combination of four bacterial strains, and other studies have shown it to be effective in slowing the growth of fungi on bats.
The province is home to 14 confirmed hibernating bat species, but the large brown, Yuma myotis and small brown myotis species are being targeted for the Wildlife Conservation Society program because they are most affected by the syndrome, Lausanne said.
small hibernation colonies
She said bat hibernation sites on the west coast are mostly unknown, which limits research opportunities.
There are also no confirmed cases of white nose syndrome in Alberta, and Lausanne suggests that one possible cause is hibernation settings. She said bats in the west probably don’t hibernate in large colonies like they do in the east, making them less susceptible to the rapid spread of the fungus.
He described the probiotic as a “made-in-the-waste solution” because most Eastern-based scientists have already focused on finding a cure for infected animals.
Scientists in Wisconsin, Ill., are working to develop a vaccine, and Lausanne said teams are looking at combining a probiotic and a vaccine in the future.
“They would work really, really well together because for the vaccine the bats eat it and with the application of the probiotic, they often end up consuming some of it, so we are really looking at the possibility of a dual purpose by combining That way, they might get a little bit of protection from the vaccine and a little bit of protection from the probiotic.”
Lausanne said the ultimate plan is to send kits to B.C. residents to spray probiotics in bait boxes on their properties, though that likely won’t be possible for at least two years.