• New observation of a highly aggressive disease of hibernating Myotis lucifugus bats

      Sewall, Brent J.; Behm, Jocelyn E. (Temple University. Libraries, 2020)
      Bats are crucial to ecological function and provide key ecosystem services to people but face a variety of significant threats. One current threat to North American bats is white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by the invasive fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) that has killed millions of hibernating bats across the continent. Remnant populations of affected bat species persist but are so depleted that they may now be highly vulnerable to new threats, or to the synergistic effects of multiple existing threats. The emergence of novel or opportunistic pathogens in bat hosts is a particular concern for the survival of these small, isolated colonies. Apart from studies of WNS and zoonotic pathogens of humans, however, bat diseases remain poorly understood. In this paper, I describe the pathology of a new, highly aggressive bat disease affecting hibernating little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) and identify candidate microbes as possible causative agents. The pathological signs that were observed diverged from those of WNS, and included blue fluorescence in the wings when trans-illuminated with ultraviolet light, and the rapid development of wing necroses and mortality within weeks of the onset of hibernation. Pathology, wing swab cultures, post-mortem analyses, and hemolysis testing identified an array of candidate species, but suggest that a possible cause is a polymicrobial infection involving two etiological agents – Trichosporon yeast and Serratia bacteria. Both species have been documented as part of the mycobiota and microbiota of healthy bats, and cave environments. They are also opportunistic pathogens, known to cause infection in other wild animals and immunocompromised humans. Opportunistic pathogens have been increasingly implicated as a cause of mass mortality events in wildlife. The disease identified here has, to my knowledge, not previously been described, and could represent a new threat to North American bats, compounding concerns for populations facing an already precarious situation.