The dreaded fungus that has killed millions of North American bats has a new name. The white, cold-loving fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome, and gave this devastating wildlife disease its name, has been known since 2009 as Geomyces destructans
. The U.S. Forest Service reports that additional genetic research by its scientists indicates the fungus should be classified within a different genus and will be called Pseudogymnoascus destructans
– or the more pronounceable P. destructans (or just PD).
|The Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus, which causes WNS, grows in a laboratory dish. Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
"This research represents more than just a name change," said Mylea Bayless, Bat Conservation International's director of conservation programs in the United States and Canada. "Understanding the evolutionary relationships between this fungus and its cousins in Europe and North America should help us narrow our search for solutions to WNS."
The study was conducted by Andrew Minnis and Daniel Lindner of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station in Madison, Wisconsin, and published in the journal Fungal Biology
Bats with the white, powdery fungus on their faces and wings were first spotted at a cave in upstate New York in February 2006. Bats began dying in large numbers the following year and White-nose Syndrome got its name. Since then, more than 6 million bats have died in 22 states and 5 Canadian provinces. It continues to spread across the continent.
Interest in the fungus has led to investigations of fungi associated with bat hibernation sites and many fungal species, quite a few previously unknown, have been found, Minnis and Lindner report. The researchers included such species in their DNA analyses, which led to the assignment of a new genus. Only P. destructans
is routinely lethal to bats.
The results also indicate, they said, that P. destructans
is not closely related to any of the other species in the study, "thus providing further support to the hypothesis that this pathogen is non-native and invasive in eastern North America."
"This research increases our confidence that this disease-causing fungus is, in fact, an invasive species," Bayless said. "Its presence among bats in Europe, where it does not cause mass mortality, could suggest hope for bats suffering from this devastating wildlife disease. Time will tell."
"Identification of the closest known relatives of this fungus makes it possible to move forward with genetic work to examine the molecular toolbox this fungus uses to kill bats," said Lindner, a research plant pathologist. "Ultimately, we hope to use this information to be able to interrupt the ability of this fungus to cause disease."
The Forest Service said in a news release that the study is based on a foundation of collaborative research among the U.S. Forest Service, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and is a continuation of pioneering research initiated by Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta and European researchers, including those at the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures in The Netherlands.P. destructans Reaches Arkansas
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission announced July 29 that the WNS fungus (P. destructans
) has been confirmed in bats at two caves in northern Arkansas. No bat deaths associated with White-nose Syndrome were found. This is the third state where the fungus, but not the disease, has been reported. The others are Oklahoma and Iowa. They are in addition to the 22 states and 5 Canadian provinces where WNS is killing bats.