Discovered in 2006 in New York, Bat White Nose Syndrom (WNS) is responsible for the deaths of over 5 million bats in 19 states and four Canadian provinces and is rapidly moving westward. The causitive agent is a fungus known as Geomyces destructans (Gds). We know very little about this fungus and even less about fungal communities in mines and caves.
My lab is inventorying and monitoring whole fungal communities in mines and caves inhabited by hibernating bats to detect the arrival of Gds in Illinois. A team of experts has been assembled at the University of Illinois and includes two mammalogists, a mycologist, a microbial ecologist, a wildlife veterinary epidemiologist and a cave biologist. We are using molecular and culture-based approaches to evaluate bats and cave/mine substrates for the presence of Gds and to describe the microbial communities within these ecosystems. This study will provide crucial data on the occurrence and distribution of Gds and the make-up of the microbial communities in which it must survive.