Researchers in Mexico Test Bat Hibernacula for Presence of Fungus that Causes White-Nose Syndrome

Researchers in Mexico Test Bat Hibernacula for Presence of Fungus that Causes White-Nose Syndrome

Bat infographic

Infographic of hibernating bats distributed as a part of this study to provide information on hibernating bats and solicit information on bat sightings.

White nose syndrome is a disease that has killed millions of bats in North America. It is caused by the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), and attacks the bare skin of hibernating bats, causing them to become active and burn through stored fat they need to survive winter. Infected bats were first observed in the northeastern United States in 2006. The fungus has spread rapidly across the United States, with cases now as far southwest as Texas near the US/Mexican border confirmed in 2019 (see spread map). Due to the continued spread of the disease across North America, it is likely the fungus has already spread to Mexico or could spread soon. A recent study by the Laboratorio de Ecología y Conservación de Vertebrados Terrestres (LECVT), in Mexico funded in part through a USFWS WNS Small Grants Program award, assessed the presence/absence of Pd on hibernating bats in Mexico.

Researchers in Mexico began by reviewing information about hibernacula sites in Mexico, including soliciting information with an infographic sent to members of the Mexican Bat Conservation Program, the Mexican Mammal Society, the Mexican Union of Speleological Groups, and the Mexican National Congress of Speleology. A total of 14 sites with a possibility of hibernating bats were visited during the winter months of 2019 to determine the presence/absence of bats. Hibernating bats were confirmed at nine of the sites. The hibernacula were sampled for the presence of Pd following protocol developed by the USGS-National Wildlife Health Center. At each site, 25 samples were collected, and all were found negative for the presence of Pd using the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) identification technique. This means that none of the samples tested positive for the fungus, however it is possible that the fungus is present but at levels too low to detect. The researchers plan to expand the survey effort to include additional hibernacula, especially close to the US/Mexico border to detect the fungus early in the spread.

June 15, 2020