White Nose Syndrome: A perspective from fungal cave ecology to understand Geomyces dynamics and its impact on caves and bat populations
Geomyces destructans - the fungus responsible for White Nose Syndrome (WNS) - has spread across many states in the US devastating bat populations. With the appearance of this novel fungal disease, fungal ecology in caves has become especially relevant, and new research on this area has revealed significant gaps in our understanding of fungal cave diversity, dispersion and competition. We are studying mycobiomes, specifically the diversity of psychrophilic fungi on hibernating bats and soils in areas that are still free of WNS. Our data reveal that bat wings contain diverse fungal communities dominated by Ascomycota with low specificity among bats and caves. Different Geomyces strains found in damaged bat wings suggest other Geomyces could be acting as mild pathogens creating the perfect conditions for the arrival of Geomyces destructans. Our research has shown that a comprehensive approach including detailed documentation of dominant fungal taxa and the use of microclimate data is necessary to understand the impact of WNS on cave ecology.