Good News for Bats: Some Populations Are Developing a Resistance to a Deadly Fungus

A team of researchers has found that some bat populations are developing a resistance to the devastating white-nose syndrome. White-nose syndrome, a deadly disease caused by fungus, has been responsible for wiping out bats throughout North America. The team’s discovery is good news but the bats aren’t quite out of the woods yet. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences.

White-nose syndrome is caused by the Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus. The fungus wasn’t discovered as a new species until 2009, when it had already begun to kill bat populations across the United States and Canada. The disease results in white growths on affected bats and leads to eventual death. The fungus has been able to spread quickly and recently reached the west coast of the United States.  White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats and led to a number of programs and regulations to attempt disease control.

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz studied populations of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus). Little brown bats are common throughout North America and good models for studying white-nose syndrome. The team sampled populations at sites in New York, Virginia, and Illinois. They found that some populations were beginning to resist the disease, including bats at sites in New York—where the disease first popped up. Further testing revealed that this was due to resistance and not simply reduced transmission between bats or better tolerance of symptoms. The team could not say what caused the growing resistance and more research is needed in that area. The authors also found no evidence of other bat species developing similar resistances.

The results of the study show that some bat populations may have a chance of recovering from the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome. They caution that more research is needed and that so far, only little brown bats show signs of bouncing back.

REFERENCE

Langwig et al. Resistance in persisting bat populations after white-nose syndrome invasion. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2016).

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