White-Nose Syndrome of Bats in Illinois
White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a devastating disease of cave- and mine-hibernating bats, is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (formerly: Geomyces destructans). The disease was discovered in 2006 in New York state, and has since been spreading to encompass many of the important bat hibernacula of the northeastern United States. The disease has continued to spread, with recently confirmed WNS sites in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, and Arkansas.
Bats roosting in a southern Illinois hibernaculum, February 2012. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Map of White-Nose Syndrome spread across North America
WNS has been confirmed from four Illinois counties.
Slide show above shows Illinois bats infected with Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Full size images are available here.
White-Nose Syndrome Research at the University of Illinois
Opportunities for studying North American fungal/microbial communities both on bats and in a variety of cave habitats prior to the arrival of WNS are diminishing. In Illinois, we found ourselves just beyond the leading edge of where WNS had been suspected and confirmed, and were able to secure funding that capitalizes on our geographical position, allowing us to develop data on fungal and microbial communities before and (should WNS be confirmed in Illinois, as is anticipated) after invasion.
Shawnee National Forest Wildlife Biologist Rod McClanahan examines a bat in a southern Illinois hibernaculum. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Researchers prepare to enter a southern Illinois cave as part of ongoing research on White-Nose Syndrome of bats. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
The University of Illinois WNS Group is led by researchers at the Prairie Research Institute's Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) (Steve Taylor, Andy Miller, Ed Heske, Joe Merritt, Nohra Mateus-Pinilla) and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) (Anthony Yannarell). Other collaborators include the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (Adam Stern), the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (Joe Kath, Endangered Species Manager), and the US Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest (Rod McClanahan, Wildlife Biologist). Our group benefits from our varied specializations that include a cave biologist, two mammalogists, a mycologist, a veterinary epidemiologist, a microbial ecologist, an endangered species specialist, and a pathologist.
Decontamination of boots in a lysol solution after each site visit is a standard part of our procedures. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
INHS Mammalogists Joe Merritt (left) and Ed Heske (center) with volunteer JoAnn Jacoby (right) after sampling a southern Illinois cave in February 2014. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Our fieldwork includes basic monitoring for WNS at selected sites in Illinois over three winters (Feb 2012, Jan-Feb 2013, Jan-Feb 2014), and includes many of the state’s most important bat hibernacula.
A researcher holds a tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) at a hibernaculum in western Illinois, February 2012. While this individual does not have White-Nose Syndrome, it does have ecoparasitic mites (visible at base of ear) - not a particularly unusual occurance. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
But our study goes well beyond monitoring – we are examining fungal and microbial communities in detail through culturing fungi, DNA sequencing, and the application of DNA-based whole-community microbial fingerprinting.
During Feb 2012 and Jan-Feb 2013 we sampled at nine hibernacula/winter, taking samples for fungal and microbial analyses (culturing and whole-community microbial ecology) from live bats (sexed, weighed, examined for WNS signs, and released), dead bats, cave/mine ceilings or walls near and away from bats, cave/mine soils, other substrates, researcher’s boots, and soil just outside of the hibernacula.
Joe Merritt, INHS mammalogist, weighs a bat in an Illinois hibernaculum. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Collecting a soil sample from a southern Illinois cave. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Collecting a swab sample from the wall of a western Illinois bat hibernaculum. Photo by Joe Kath / Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
In addition we collect soil samples for characterization of pH, nitrates, etc. Most samples also are associated with meter readings for soil and air temperature, relative humidity, and light.
Samples are transported on ice back to the laboratory for fungal culturing on petri dishes utilizing two different media and for whole-community microbial analyses. A few bats have been euthanized for histopathological examination at the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Laboratory analyses are still underway.
Plant Biology graduate student Daniel Raudabaugh collects a sample from a dead bat, February 2013. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Fungal cultures in the Miller mycology laboratory at the Illinos Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Our first winter of sampling was completed in February 2012, with no sites found to be positive for WNS. During February 2013, several Illinois sites were confirmed as positive for WNS. Our third winter (February 2014) sampling is still underway (as 21 February 2014).
Ed Heske (INHS mammalogist) working in a western Illinois bat hibernaculum, February 2014. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
A tri-colored bat, Perimyotis subflavus, on the ceiling of a western Illinois cave, February 2012. This species is commonly covered in water droplets. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Joe Kath (IDNR Endangered Species Manager / Bat Specialist) and Joe Merritt (INHS mammalogist) exiting a western Illinois bat hibernaculum, February 2012. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
More than 1500 field samples have been collected over the first two winters, and thousands of individual fungal isolates have been generated out of these field samples. It will take some time to fully analyze the data, and we will continue our work through more field sampling in January-February 2014 and by comparing our winter-collected hibernaculum data on fungal and microbial communities to similar data we collect during summer mist-netting of bats and to data collected from bats submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health for rabies evaluation.
A Pseudogymnoascus destructans infected Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) at a Monroe County, Illinois hibernaculum, February 2013. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
A Pseudogymnoascus destructans infected Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) at a LaSalle County, Illinois hibernaculum, January 2013. Photo by Steve Taylor / Prairie Research Institute.
Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute researchers Joe Merritt, Ed Heske, and Steve Taylor at an Illinois bat hibernaculum, February 2012. Photo by Stefanie Fitzsimons (IDNR intern).