The evolution of a bat population with white-nose syndrome (WNS) reveals a shift from an epizootic to an enzootic phase

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Abstract

Background: White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is a mycosis caused by a cutaneous infection with the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd). It produces hibernation mortality rates of 75-98% in 4 bats: Myotis lucifugus, M. septentrionalis, M. sodalis, and Perimyotis subflavus. These high mortality rates were observed during the first several years after the arrival of P. destructans at a hibernation site. Mortality is caused by a 60% decrease in torpor bout duration, which results in a premature depletion of depot fat prior to spring. Results: Little is known about the long-term effects of Pd on torpor and mortality, thus we conducted a 9-year study on M. lucifugus at 5 of the hibernation sites where Pd first appeared in North America during the winter of 2007-08. The M. lucifugus hibernating at one of these sites one year after the arrival of Pd (2008-09) had: a) a mean torpor bout duration of 7.6 d, b) no depot fat reserves by March, and c) an apparent over-winter mortality rate of 88%. The M. lucifugus hibernating at this same site 6-9 years after the arrival of Pd, in contrast, had: a) a mean torpor bout duration of 14.7 d, b) depot fat remaining in March, and c) an apparent mortality rate of 50%. The number of M. lucifugus hibernating at 2 of these sites has consistently increased since 2010 and is now more than 3.0-fold higher than the number remaining after the winter of 2008-09. Conclusions: These findings indicate that this population of M. lucifugus has evolved mechanisms to hibernate well in the presence of Pd, thus reducing over-winter mortality.

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Frank, C. L., Davis, A. D., & Herzog, C. (2019). The evolution of a bat population with white-nose syndrome (WNS) reveals a shift from an epizootic to an enzootic phase. Frontiers in Zoology, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12983-019-0340-y

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