White Nose Syndrome in Bats: joint research of the Brno research institutes

Scientists from research centres of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Masaryk University, and Veterinary and Pharmaceutical University in Brno have proved that bats here suffer from white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that is threatening the ecosystem in North America. In the Czech Republic as well as in other parts of Europe, bats with this syndrome die only very rarely and the disease has not yet caused a decline in the population numbers. Uncovering the cause of ‘European immunity’ could save North American bats and avert also the disruption of the biological balance in that part of the world.

New knowledge on the pathology of bats infected with the white-nose syndrome fungus in Europe was published this January by an international team of researchers in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases ‒ a prestigious international journal, which publishes results of original research on diseases, environmental contaminations and other factors influencing the health of wild animals. ‘For several years, we have known that the Geomyces destructans fungus, which causes white-nose syndrome in North America, is present in Europe, but only now we have been able to diagnose the disease itself also in European bats,’ says co-author of the article Mgr. Natália Martínková, Ph.D., from the Institute of Vertebrate Biology of the Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Biostatistics and Analyses of Masaryk University in Brno. The team also found dead greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) with an early stage of white-nose syndrome in the Moravian Karst. However, the annual monitoring of the bat populations, conducted by the Czech Bat Conservation Trust, has not shown any significant reduction of the number of these flying mammals.

In North America, white-nose syndrome first appeared in 2006 in the northeast of the USA. Since that time, it has spread to other areas, where several affected species of bats have died en masse. In Europe, the first positive finding of Geomyces destructans was recorded in Germany in 2008, but according to historical photographs, bats with fungal growth seem to have already appeared sporadically decades ago. Yet, even three years after the fungus was detected in Europe first, no massive mortality of bats at hibernation sites nor an increased death rate elsewhere has been observed. This difference in survival has been attributed to bats having adapted to the infection in Europe and white-nose syndrome not developing among them.

Pathological investigations, conducted by prof. MVDr. Jiří Pikula, Ph.D., along with his co-workers from the Veterinary and Pharmaceutical University in Brno, proved that bats in Europe have the same changes on the skin that are used to diagnose white-nose syndrome in North America. The fungus grows through the layers of epidermis and it forms dense clusters of spores on the surface of the skin.

‘Our task now is to determine why bats in Europe survive with white-nose syndrome better than bats in North America. Such information could help to design management practices to resolve the ecological catastrophe in North America,’ explains Natália Martínková

Further information:

  • Jiří Pikula, Hana Bandouchová, Ladislav Novotný, Carol U. Meteyer, Jan Zukal, Nancy R. Irwin, Jan Zima, Natália Martínková. Histopathology Confirms White-Nose Syndrome in Bats in Europe. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 48(1), 2012, pp. 207–211.

White Nose Syndrome in Bats: joint research of the Brno research institutes - photogallery

23.1.2012 Source: press release of the Academy of Sciences