Field trial of a probiotic bacteria to protect bats from white-nose syndrome
Tools for reducing wildlife disease impacts are needed to conserve biodiversity. White-nose syndrome (WNS), caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has caused widespread declines in North American bat populations and threatens several species with extinction. Few tools exist for managers to reduce WNS impacts. We tested the efficacy of a probiotic bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens, to reduce impacts of WNS in two simultaneous experiments with caged and free-flying Myotis lucifugus bats at a mine in Wisconsin, USA. In the cage experiment there was no difference in survival between control and P. fluorescens-treated bats. However, body mass, not infection intensity, predicted mortality, suggesting that within-cage disturbance influenced the cage experiment. In the free-flying experiment, where bats were able to avoid conspecific disturbance, infection intensity predicted the date of emergence from the mine. In this experiment treatment with P. fluorescens increased apparent overwinter survival five-fold compared to the control group (from 8.4% to 46.2%) by delaying emergence of bats from the site by approximately 32 days. These results suggest that treatment of bats with P. fluorescens may substantially reduce WNS mortality, and, if used in combination with other interventions, could stop population declines.