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Datasheet

Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 23 June 2017
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Pseudogymnoascus destructans
  • Preferred Common Name
  • white-nose syndrome fungus
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Fungi
  •     Phylum: Ascomycota
  •       Subphylum: Pezizomycotina
  •         Class: Dothideomycetes
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Pseudogymnoascus destructans is a psychrophilic (cold-loving) fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), an emerging disease of North American bats that has caused unprecedented population declines. The fung...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle. USA. April 2008.
TitleClinical signs
CaptionPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle. USA. April 2008.
Copyright©Alan Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation - All Rights Reserved
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle. USA. April 2008.
Clinical signsPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle. USA. April 2008.©Alan Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation - All Rights Reserved
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); close-up of hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle.
TitleClinical signs
CaptionPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); close-up of hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle.
Copyright©Alan Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation - All Rights Reserved
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); close-up of hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle.
Clinical signsPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); close-up of hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle.©Alan Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation - All Rights Reserved
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle and wings. USA. April 2008.
TitleClinical signs
CaptionPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle and wings. USA. April 2008.
Copyright©Alan Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation - All Rights Reserved
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle and wings. USA. April 2008.
Clinical signsPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle and wings. USA. April 2008.©Alan Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation - All Rights Reserved
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); close-up of hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle and wings. USA. April 2008.
TitleClinical signs
CaptionPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); close-up of hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle and wings. USA. April 2008.
Copyright©Alan Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation - All Rights Reserved
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); close-up of hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle and wings. USA. April 2008.
Clinical signsPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); close-up of hibernating little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungal growth, typical of white-nose syndrome, on muzzle and wings. USA. April 2008.©Alan Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation - All Rights Reserved
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); light microscopy image of Pseudogymnoascus
destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
TitleLight microscopy image
CaptionPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); light microscopy image of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
Copyright©David Blehert, US Geological Survey (USGS)
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); light microscopy image of Pseudogymnoascus
destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
Light microscopy imagePseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); light microscopy image of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.©David Blehert, US Geological Survey (USGS)
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); wings of a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) infected with white-nose syndrome; arrows show pale areas characteristic of infection by P. destructans.
TitleClinical signs
CaptionPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); wings of a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) infected with white-nose syndrome; arrows show pale areas characteristic of infection by P. destructans.
Copyright©Carol Meteyer, US Geological Survey (USGS) - Meteyer et al., 2011.
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); wings of a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) infected with white-nose syndrome; arrows show pale areas characteristic of infection by P. destructans.
Clinical signsPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); wings of a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) infected with white-nose syndrome; arrows show pale areas characteristic of infection by P. destructans.©Carol Meteyer, US Geological Survey (USGS) - Meteyer et al., 2011.
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); wing of a bat affected by white-nose syndrome under ultraviolet light. Areas affected by WNS appear yellow-orange under ultraviolet light.
TitleDiagnostic screening
CaptionPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); wing of a bat affected by white-nose syndrome under ultraviolet light. Areas affected by WNS appear yellow-orange under ultraviolet light.
Copyright©US Geological Survey (USGS)/Original photographer unknown; Turner et al., 2014
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); wing of a bat affected by white-nose syndrome under ultraviolet light. Areas affected by WNS appear yellow-orange under ultraviolet light.
Diagnostic screeningPseudogymnoascus destructans (white-nose syndrome fungus); wing of a bat affected by white-nose syndrome under ultraviolet light. Areas affected by WNS appear yellow-orange under ultraviolet light.©US Geological Survey (USGS)/Original photographer unknown; Turner et al., 2014

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Blehert & Gargas) Minnis & D.L. Lindner, 2013

Preferred Common Name

  • white-nose syndrome fungus

Other Scientific Names

  • Geomyces destructans Blehert & Gargas, 2009

International Common Names

  • English: causative agent: white-nose syndrome

Summary of Invasiveness

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Pseudogymnoascus destructans is a psychrophilic (cold-loving) fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), an emerging disease of North American bats that has caused unprecedented population declines. The fungus is believed to have been introduced to North America from Europe or Asia (where it is present but does not cause significant mortality), but the full extent of its native range is unknown. The route of introduction is also unknown. In North America, hibernating bats become infected with P. destructans when body temperature decreases during winter torpor into the range permissive for growth of this fungus. Infected bats may develop visible fungal growth on the nose or wings, awaken more frequently from torpor, and experience a cascade of physiologic changes that result in weight loss, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and death. P. destructans persists in the environments of underground bat hibernation sites (hibernacula) and is believed to spread primarily by natural movements of infected bats. The first evidence of WNS in North America is from a photograph of a hibernating bat taken during winter of 2005-2006 in a hibernaculum near Albany, New York. P. destructans subsequently spread rapidly from the northeastern United States throughout much of the eastern portions of the United States and Canada, and most recently (as of May 2017) was detected in Washington State. It has killed millions of bats, threatening some species with regional extirpation and putting at risk the valuable environmental services that bats provide by eating harmful insects.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Fungi
  •         Phylum: Ascomycota
  •             Subphylum: Pezizomycotina
  •                 Class: Dothideomycetes
  •                     Genus: Pseudogymnoascus
  •                         Species: Pseudogymnoascus destructans

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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A fungus with curved conidia was isolated from the skin of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) and northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis) that were demonstrating signs of an unknown disease designated “white-nose syndrome”, with white growth observed on the nose and wings of affected bats (Blehert et al., 2009; Gargas et al., 2009). The newly discovered fungal pathogen was first placed in the genus Geomyces, based on initial rRNA gene sequence analysis, with the specific name destructans, but this fungus’s asymmetrically curved conidia were morphologically unlike those of congeners (Gargas et al., 2009). Based upon subsequent multi-locus sequence analysis, the fungus was reclassified to the genus Pseudogymnoascus in the family Pseudeurotiaceae (Minnis and Lindner, 2013).

Distribution

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Pseudogymnoascus destructans has been detected on bats or in environments utilized by bats for hibernation in North America (United States and Canada), at least 18 European countries, and China. The native range of the fungus is unknown but is minimally presumed to include parts of Europe, where there is evidence of genetic diversification (Leopardi et al., 2015). The route of introduction to North America has not been determined. The disease has now been reported from 5 provinces in eastern Canada and 31 US states, mostly in the centre and east of the country; the fungus, but no clinical disease, has been found in an additional 2 states. An interactive map of the spread and distribution of WNS in North America is available at: https://www.sciencebase.gov/gisviewer/wns/; the latest map of distribution, along with earlier versions, can be seen at https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/resources/map.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

China
-BeijingPresent2015Hoyt et al., 2016Presumably native
-JilinPresent2015Hoyt et al., 2016Presumably native
-LiaoningPresent2015Hoyt et al., 2016Presumably native
-ShandongPresent2015Hoyt et al., 2016Presumably native

North America

Canada
-New BrunswickPresentIntroduced2011 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-Nova ScotiaPresentIntroduced2011 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-OntarioPresentIntroduced2010 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-Prince Edward IslandPresentIntroduced2013 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-QuebecPresentIntroduced2010 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
USA
-AlabamaPresentIntroduced2012 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-ArkansasPresentIntroduced2012 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-ConnecticutPresentIntroduced2008 Invasive Blehert et al., 2009; US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-DelawarePresentIntroduced2010 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-GeorgiaPresentIntroduced2013 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-IllinoisPresentIntroduced2013 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-IndianaPresentIntroduced2011 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-IowaPresentIntroduced2012 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-KentuckyPresentIntroduced2011 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-MainePresentIntroduced2011 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-MarylandPresentIntroduced2010 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-MassachusettsPresentIntroduced2008 Invasive Blehert et al., 2009; US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-MichiganPresentIntroduced2014 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-MinnesotaPresentIntroduced2012 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-MississippiPresentIntroduced2014 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016P. destructans confirmed present but clinical white-nose syndrome not confirmed as of May 2017.
-MissouriPresentIntroduced2010 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-NebraskaPresentIntroduced2015 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-New HampshirePresentIntroduced2009 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-New JerseyPresentIntroduced2009 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-New YorkPresentIntroduced2008 Invasive Blehert et al., 2009; US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016First evidence of bat WNS in North America is from a photograph taken in New York on 16 February 2006. First field signs of WNS were observed in winter 2006-2007. P. destructans was first confirmed as the cause of these observations during 2008.
-North CarolinaPresentIntroduced2011 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-OhioPresentIntroduced2011 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-OklahomaPresentIntroduced2015 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-PennsylvaniaPresentIntroduced2010 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-Rhode IslandPresentIntroduced2016 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-South CarolinaPresentIntroduced2013 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-TennesseePresentIntroduced2010 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-TexasPresentIntroduced2017 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016P. destructans confirmed present but clinical white-nose syndrome not confirmed as of May 2017.
-VermontPresentIntroduced2008 Invasive Blehert et al., 2009; US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-VirginiaPresentIntroduced2009 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-WashingtonPresentIntroduced2016 Invasive Lorch et al., 2016; US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-West VirginiaPresentIntroduced2009 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016
-WisconsinPresentIntroduced2014 Invasive US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016

Europe

BelgiumPresent2010Puechmaille et al., 2011b; Wibbelt et al., 2013Presumably native
CroatiaPresent2013Pavlinic et al., 2015Presumably native
Czech RepublicPresent2010Martínková et al., 2010; Pikula et al., 2012; Zukal et al., 2016Presumably native
EstoniaPresent2010Puechmaille et al., 2011bPresumably native
FrancePresent2010Puechmaille et al., 2011b; Puechmaille et al., 2010; Wibbelt et al., 2013Presumably native
GermanyPresent2010Puechmaille et al., 2011b; Wibbelt et al., 2010; Wibbelt et al., 2013Presumably native
HungaryPresent2010Puechmaille et al., 2011b; Wibbelt et al., 2010Presumably native
LatviaPresent2014Zukal et al., 2016Presumably native
LuxembourgPresent2015Leopardi et al., 2015Presumably native
NetherlandsPresent2010Puechmaille et al., 2011b; Wibbelt et al., 2013Presumably native
PolandPresent2010Puechmaille et al., 2011b; Sachanowicz et al., 2014Presumably native
PortugalPresentPaiva-Cardoso et al., 2014Presumably native
Russian FederationPresent2014Zukal et al., 2016Presumably native
SlovakiaPresent2010Martínková et al., 2010; Simonovicov et al., 2011Presumably native
SloveniaPresent2014Zukal et al., 2016Presumably native
SwitzerlandPresent2010Wibbelt et al., 2010Presumably native
UKPresent2013Barlow et al., 2015Presumably native
UkrainePresent2010Puechmaille et al., 2011bPresumably native

History of Introduction and Spread

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Pseudogymnoascus destructans is hypothesized to have been introduced to North America from Europe or Asia (Frick et al., 2010; Wibbelt et al., 2010; Warnecke et al., 2012; Minnis and Lindner, 2013; Leopardi et al., 2015, Hoyt et al. 2016). The route of introduction is unknown. Subsequent spread in North America is believed to be driven primarily by the natural movement of bats among geographically restricted patches of hibernation habitat, with climate variables restricting pathogen range (Maher et al., 2012; Wilder et al., 2015). Isolates of P. destructans from North America are clonal (Rajkumar et al., 2011; Ren et al., 2012; Khankhet et al., 2014), while those from Europe are more genetically diverse (Leopardi et al., 2015).

Bats demonstrating signs of white-nose syndrome (WNS) were first described in the field setting near Albany, New York, during the winter of 2006-2007. Biologists reported increased mortality and abnormal white growth on the nose or wings of bats (Blehert et al., 2009; Blehert, 2012). The condition was attributed to infection with an uncharacterized fungal pathogen that was subsequently identified as P. destructans (Gargas et al., 2009).Pseudogymnoascus destructans was formally demonstrated to be the causative agent of WNS in captive experiments (Lorch et al., 2011).

Since initial detection, WNS has spread rapidly throughout much of the eastern United States and eastern Canada. As of January 2017, detection of P. destructans associated with clinical signs of WNS in bat populations had been confirmed from five Canadian provinces and 31 states in the United States, including an isolated detection on the west coast in Washington State (Lorch et al., 2016). P. destructans has also been detected on bats without documented manifestation of WNS in two additional states. An interactive map of the spread and distribution of WNS in North America is available at: https://www.sciencebase.gov/gisviewer/wns/; the latest map of distribution, along with earlier versions, can be seen at https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/resources/map.

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
North America about 2006 Yes Leopardi et al., 2015; Puechmaille et al., 2011b Presumably introduced from Europe or Asia. Route of introduction unknown.

Risk of Introduction

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The route by which Pseudogymnoascus destructans arrived in the United States is unknown, which limits accurate assessment of risks for additional global introduction events.

Spread of P. destructans to unaffected bat populations in the western United States, western Canada, or Central and South America by continued natural diffusion or by human-mediated processes remains a concern (Maher et al., 2012; Knudsen et al., 2013; Escobar et al., 2014; Frick et al., 2015; O'Regan et al., 2015). While it has been proposed that decreased bat community connectivity in western North America could slow pathogen spread in this region (Wilder et al., 2015), detection of P. destructans on the Pacific Coast of the United States has heightened concerns about the potential for more rapid dissemination in western regions. The route by which P. destructans was transmitted to Washington is also unknown, but the isolate genetically matches those found in eastern North America, suggesting a within-country translocation event (Lorch et al., 2016).

Clonality of North American fungal isolates has hampered capacity to document patterns of spread through genetic analysis of the pathogen. Recent work on the genetics of viruses that infect this fungus may offer a novel alternative for understanding eco-epidemiology of white-nose syndrome across North American landscapes (Thapa et al., 2016).

Pathogen Characteristics

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The type specimen of Pseudogymnoascus destructans was isolated from the wing of a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) during February 2008 (Holotype BP187895; ex-type culture NHWC 20631-21) (Gargas et al., 2009). This fungus is psychrophilic and grows slowly on cornmeal agar or Sabouraud dextrose agar incubated at cold temperatures (approximately 5 to 15°C). Growth at 7°C on cornmeal agar produces a 1.0 mm diameter colony after 16 days (Gargas et al., 2009). Colonies are white marginally, with grey to grey-green, powdery centres; the reverse side is either uncoloured (cornmeal agar) or brown (Sabouraud dextrose agar) (Gargas et al., 2009; Chaturvedi et al., 2010). Optimal temperature for maximum growth rate varies among isolates but ranges from 12.5°C to 15.8°C (Verant et al., 2012), which is warmer than the typical body temperature of hibernating bats (approximately 7.2°C) (Brack, 2007). The fungus does not grow above 20°C (Verant et al., 2012).

Microscopically, P. destructans has characteristic moderately thick-walled, curved conidia and erect, hyaline, smooth, narrow and thin-walled conidiophores (Gargas et al., 2009; Chaturvedi et al., 2010). Atypical morphology is observed when cultures are incubated at temperatures greater than 12°C (Gargas et al., 2009; Verant et al., 2012). At elevated temperatures (above 15°C) hyphae become deformed and thickened and show signs of degeneration (Verant et al., 2012).

In vitro studies have demonstrated that P. destructans has diverse metabolic capacities that would support survival as a saprobe outside a host, and also produces a variety of enzymes that may serve as virulence factors (Raudabaugh and Miller, 2013). It may be similar to other environmentally-persistent fungal pathogens, such as Cryptococcus neoformans, in having a number of “dual use” enzymes, including proteinase, urease, lipase, haemolysin, chitinase, cellulase, and superoxide dismutase, that are potentially valuable for saprotrophic growth and also may serve pathogenic functions when infecting a host (Smyth et al., 2013; Reynolds and Barton, 2014). Virulence factors identified in P. destructans that may specifically contribute to skin invasion include secretion of siderophores (Mascuch et al., 2015), over-production of riboflavin (vitamin B2) (Flieger et al., 2016), and excretion of a subtilisin-like serine protease that degrades collagen (Pannkuk et al., 2015; O'Donoghue et al., 2015).

The complete genome of P. destructans was recently published (Drees et al., 2016), which should facilitate additional exploration of unique virulence genes that contribute to skin invasion and pathogenesis in bat hosts.

Isolates of P. destructans from North America are clonal (Rajkumar et al., 2011; Ren et al., 2012; Khankhet et al., 2014), while those from Europe are more genetically diverse (Leopardi et al., 2015).

Host Animals

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Animal nameContextLife stageSystem
Barbastella barbastellusWild host:
Eptesicus fuscusWild host:
Eptesicus nilssoniiWild host:
Miniopterus schreibersiiWild host:
Myotis bechsteiniiWild host:
Myotis brandtiiWild host:
Myotis dasycnemeWild host:
Myotis daubentoniiWild host:
Myotis emarginatusWild host:
Myotis grisescensWild host:
Myotis leibiiWild host:
Myotis lucifugusWild host:
Myotis myotisWild host:
Myotis nattereriWild host:
Myotis petaxWild host:
Myotis septentrionalisWild host:
Myotis sodalisWild host:
Perimyotis subflavusWild host:
Plecotus auritusWild host:
Rhinolophus euryaleWild host:
Rhinolophus hipposiderosWild host:

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Tolerated Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C
D - Continental/Microthermal climate Tolerated Continental/Microthermal climate (Average temp. of coldest month < 0°C, mean warmest month > 10°C)

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
HitchhikerMay be spread by infected bats, &amp; contact with contaminated substrates and human clothing/equipment Yes Yes Ballmann et al., 2017; Carpenter et al., 2016; Lorch et al., 2011; Lorch et al., 2013b; Mulec et al., 2013; Shelley et al., 2013; Sleeman, 2011; Wilder et al., 2015

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Clothing, footwear and possessionsMovement on clothing, footwear, or equipment (particularly caving equipment) is possible Yes Yes Ballmann et al., 2017; Shelley et al., 2013; Sleeman, 2011
Host and vector organismsBelieved to primarily be spread by infected bats during local movements among roosting sites Yes Carpenter et al., 2016; Lorch et al., 2011; Wilder et al., 2015

Economic Impact

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Millions of North American bats have died from white-nose syndrome (WNS), resulting in dramatic regional bat population declines (Frick et al., 2010; Frick et al., 2015; Reynolds et al., 2016). Insectivorous bats provide valuable pest control services. For example, bats eat insects that damage crops and forests, and that carry diseases. In the USA alone, insectivorous bats are estimated to save farmers over $3 billion annually in pest suppression services (Boyles et al., 2011). Recent experiments indicate that bat suppression of insect pests in corn (maize) fields could scale globally to one billion dollars in savings per year for that crop alone (Maine and Boyles, 2015). Many bat species in tropical and subtropical regions are also important pollinators and dispersers of seeds (Boyles et al., 2011; Kunz et al., 2011). Mortality due to WNS and other population stressors is expected to reduce the levels at which bat populations provide these valuable and irreplaceable ecosystem services.

Environmental Impact

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White-nose syndrome affects all life stages of hibernating bats, and mortality at newly-affected hibernacula can be very high, resulting in substantial and rapid decreases in bat abundance (Frick et al., 2010). Millions of North American bats have died from WNS, and population declines for heavily impacted species could result in regional extirpation of some previously common species such as the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and northern long-eared bat (M. septentrionalis) (Frick et al., 2010; Frick et al., 2015; Reynolds et al., 2016; Brooks, 2011; Thogmartin et al., 2013; Erickson et al., 2016).

Bat populations affected by WNS are expected to be slow to recover due to low annual fecundity, and some populations may struggle to achieve the numbers seen prior to emergence of this disease (Russell et al., 2015). Cumulative effects of other population stressors, such as mortality from wind-turbine collisions, could exacerbate disease impacts (Erickson et al., 2016). Long-term monitoring of bat populations will be vital for understanding recovery trajectories and guiding evidence-based management decisions (Russell et al., 2015).

Additionally, shifts in bat community composition and abundance have been documented in areas of the United States and Canada that have been affected by WNS (Francl et al., 2012; Frick et al., 2015). Although the implications of these declines and populations shifts are not fully understood, they are likely to exert ecological impacts (Brooks, 2011; Frick et al., 2015).

Large-scale impacts of WNS are confined to North America. Isolates of P. destructans from both North America and Europe have similar virulence in the North American little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) (Warnecke et al., 2012). However, while skin infection with P. destructans has been detected in a number of European bat species, mass mortality attributable to infection has not been observed (Wibbelt et al., 2010; Puechmaille et al., 2011a; Puechmaille et al., 2011b; Pikula et al., 2012; Zukal et al., 2014).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Myotis grisescensUSA ESA listing as endangered speciesUSAPathogenicAlves et al., 2014
Myotis septentrionalisUSA ESA listing as threatened speciesUSAPathogenicAlves et al., 2014
Myotis sodalisNT (IUCN red list: Near threatened); USA ESA listing as endangered speciesUSAPathogenicAlves et al., 2014

Social Impact

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Some bat species, such as the northern long-eared bat (M. septentrionalis), may consume large quantities of mosquitoes (Reiskind and Wund, 2009), and can therefore potentially benefit human health by reducing risks for transmission of vector-borne disease. Large-scale mortality due to WNS is expected to reduce these benefits.

Risk and Impact Factors

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Impact mechanisms

  • Pathogenic

Impact outcomes

  • Altered trophic level
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Host damage
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Negatively impacts forestry
  • Negatively impacts human health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Negatively impacts tourism
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species

Invasiveness

  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Long lived
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Reproduces asexually

Likelihood of entry/control

  • Difficult/costly to control

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Emergence of fungal pathogens that pose dramatic threats to stability and viability of wildlife populations or species is a relatively new phenomenon (Blehert, 2012; Fisher et al., 2012). Response to emerging fungal diseases of wildlife presents unique challenges due to limited understanding of both fungal pathogens and wildlife hosts. Fungal species, in general, are poorly studied compared to other taxa of pathogens. Few effective antifungal medications exist and those in use often have substantial side effects. Furthermore, strategies for successful development of anti-fungal vaccines are in their infancy (Blehert, 2012; Fisher et al., 2012). Similarly, insufficient knowledge about the physiology, immunology, and ecology of the multiple species of bats susceptible to white-nose syndrome (WNS) has presented challenges to outbreak management (Foley et al., 2011). Although response to the emergence of WNS was rapid by historical standards for an emergent disease of wildlife, development of effective control and prevention strategies is still in progress (Cryan et al., 2010, 2013b; Voyles et al., 2015).

Despite the severity of its impacts, WNS has fostered substantial new interest in understanding bat ecology and wildlife disease. Most appreciably, efforts to address this devastating disease have considerably advanced formalization of partnerships and response planning that will be required to combat future instances of emerging infectious diseases affecting wildlife (Foley et al., 2011; Langwig et al., 2015b; Voyles et al., 2015).

References

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Alves DMCC; Terribile LC; Brito D, 2014. The potential impact of white-nose syndrome on the conservation status of North American bats. PLoS ONE, 9(9):e107395. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0107395

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Contributors

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13/02/17: Original text by:

David Blehert, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Emily Lankau, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US government.

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