Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fungal Communities in Bats at Risk of White-Nose Syndrome in Caves and Mines in Southern Illinois

Indiana bat with white-nosed syndrome

Tabitha Williams
     WIU graduate student, Tabitha Williams recently conducted a study in an attempt to identify, characterize and compare psychrophilic fungal communities associated with seven different bat species commonly found in southern Illinois.  The purpose of the study is to provide important base-line data for bats, which live in caves that have not yet been infected with a relatively new and emerging fungus Geomyces destructans, which causes white-nose syndrome.  White-nose syndrome infects hibernating bats and has been responsible for major declines of bat populations in eastern North America due to an increase in frequency of arousals from torpor during hibernation leading to depletion of the fat reserves and subsequent starvation.  Using the genetic ITS rDNA barcode, fungal communities in southern Illinois were found to be dominated mostly by Ascomycota, followed by Zygomycota, and Basidomycota.  Nineteen isolates were identified as Geomyces strains with a high genetic similarity to G. destructans.   Most studies only examine bats in caves after they have been infected with G. destructans, but it is important to understand fungal community structure before bats are infected to provide a framework for how communities are altered after infection.  This study was conducted in collaboration with Robert McCleery of the University of Florida and Rod McClanahan of the United States Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest and under the guidance and and mentorship of Tabitha’s graduate advisor, Andrea Porras-Alfaro.