Indexed on: 03 Jul '13Published on: 03 Jul '13Published in: Applied and environmental microbiology
Since 2006, Geomyces destructans, the causative agent of white nose syndrome (WNS), has killed over 5.7 million bats in North America. The current hypothesis suggests that this novel fungus is an invasive species from Europe, but little is known about the diversity within the genus Geomyces and its distribution on bats in the United States. We documented the psychrophilic and psychrotolerant fungal flora of hibernating bats prior to the arrival of WNS using culture-based techniques. A total of 149 cultures, which were obtained from 30 bats in five bat hibernacula located in four caves and one mine, were sequenced for the entire internal transcribed spacer (ITS) nuclear ribosomal DNA (nrDNA) region. Approximately 53 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) at 97% similarity were recovered from bat wings, with the community dominated by fungi within the genera Cladosporium, Fusarium, Geomyces, Mortierella, Penicillium, and Trichosporon. Eleven Geomyces isolates were obtained and placed in at least seven distinct Geomyces clades based on maximum-likelihood phylogenetic analyses. Temperature experiments revealed that all Geomyces strains isolated are psychrotolerant, unlike G. destructans, which is a true psychrophile. Our results confirm that a large diversity of fungi, including several Geomyces isolates, occurs on bats prior to the arrival of WNS. Most of these isolates were obtained from damaged wings. Additional studies need to be conducted to determine potential ecological roles of these abundant Geomyces strains isolated from bats.