White-nose Syndrome Detected in TVA Cave in Alabama
April 18, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The fast-spreading fungus that causes the deadly white-nose syndrome in bats has been found in Collier Cave in northwestern Alabama on property managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
"This occurrence marks the first reporting of white-nose in Lauderdale County and the farthest west the disease has been found in Alabama," said TVA terrestrial zoologist Liz Burton. "This is the second TVA cave with positive findings of the fungus."
TVA has been working since 2009 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and statewide teams to develop white-nose syndrome response plans for Tennessee and Alabama, and to collaboratively address the disease across the Southeast.
As part of that effort, TVA has closed public access to all caves, sinkholes, tunnels and mines on TVA-managed lands due to concerns that human contact may spread the disease from cave to cave.
Since its discovery in 2006 in New York State, white-nose syndrome has been confirmed in 22 states as far west as Missouri and Illinois, and most recently in South Carolina and Georgia, and blamed for the deaths of more than 6 million bats.
Alabama's first confirmed case was in the winter of 2011-2012, the same season the first infected TVA cave was discovered at Norris Dam Cave near Knoxville. The number of infected caves in Tennessee has more than doubled since a dozen caves were identified a year ago.
"It is likely that future monitoring efforts will reveal further spread of white-nose syndrome in the Tennessee Valley," Burton said.
Swab samples taken by TVA biologists in 2012 of two bats in Collier Cave tested positive for the fungus after they were re-checked in March 2013 using more sensitive techniques. One bat was a federally endangered gray bat; the other was a tri-colored bat. Neither showed visible signs of the disease, there was no visible mortality at the site, and census numbers were similar to previous years.
In many caves where the disease has been present for several years, mortality rates over 90 percent have been documented. Research suggests that the fungus – which often grows into white tufts on the muzzles of infected bats, giving the disease its name – may cause a suite of physiological problems. These include wing tissue damage, alteration of circulation and respiratory function, and dehydration. These physiological disturbances can lead to more frequent arousal during hibernation.
"There is no known treatment for the disease or known way to completely stop the fungus from spreading," Burton said. "The chosen paths forward are to restrict access to caves, monitor the spread, and continue researching exactly how the disease works."
For more information, see the national white-nose syndrome website at http://whitenosesyndrome.org/ or contact the TVA Environmental Information Center at http://www.tva.gov/environment/eic/ or call 800-882-5263.
Bats play a critical role in the ecosystem by controlling insects, pollinating plants and providing food for other animals. TVA's work with others to protect caves and monitor numerous gray bat populations is one of TVA's primary environmental stewardship activities.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is a corporate agency of the United States that provides electricity for business customers and local power distributors serving 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. TVA receives no taxpayer funding, deriving virtually all of its revenues from sales of electricity. In addition to operating and investing its revenues in its electric system, TVA provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system and assists local power companies and state and local governments with economic development and job creation.
Duncan Mansfield, Knoxville, (865) 632-4660