External Microbiota of Bats as Potential Bio-control Against Wildlife Diseases

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White-nose syndrome (WNS) and/or Pseudogymnoascus destructans (P.d.), the causal agent, has spread westward across 26 states and 5 provinces within the eastern United States and Canada, respectively, over a short period of time. Since its discovery there has been a search to stop the spread of this disease that has killed millions of hibernating bats in its wake. Recent collaborative work by FORT scientists, the University of New Mexico, and Western Illinois University have discovered that the external microbiota of several bat species from the Southwest have unique microbiota that show promise in impeding the growth of P.d. 

Given the diverse bat species found in the southwestern U.S., compared to the eastern U.S., the possibilities of discovering new bio-controls against P.d. are great. Therefore, investigations by FORT scientists and collaborators have been targeted to species most likely to be affected and regions of greatest concern.

A photo of a culture plate showing the growth of an actinobaterium cultured from a bat sampled in AZ.
A culture plate showing the growth of an actinobaterium cultured from a bat sampled in AZ. This could potentially lead to a treatment for white-nose syndrome using a naturally occuring bacteria in some bats. Photo by Shiloh Lueschow, permission given.

In 2015, three tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus), a species found primarily in the eastern United States, tested positive for P.d. in eastern Oklahoma. Until March 2016, the discovery of WNS and P.d. in Washington state, these records represented the westernmost occurrence of the disease causing fungus. In addition, records of P.d. from eastern Oklahoma are also on the same latitude and trajectory as a possible corridor to the western United States via northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado. In 2003, tri-colored bats were discovered in northeastern New Mexico, thus suggesting that this species is moving into the West via the riparian corridors of northeastern New Mexico. 

Given the proximity of Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (BEOL, approx. 135 km away) in southeastern Colorado and Capulin Volcano National Monument (CAVO, approx. 75 km away) in northeastern New Mexico to the record of P. subflavus recorded in 2003, these two monuments are at the frontline to the introduction of P.d. and WNS. Further, Pecos National Historic Park (PECO) is at an ecotone between grassland-woodland and montane forest relative to the two aforementioned national parks and likely possess a greater diversity of bat species that could be affected by WNS. Overall, these sites serve as critical locations prior to exposure to P.d. for the diagnosis of naturally occurring microbiota that could act as natural defenses against WNS. 

FORT-USGS Biologist Ernest Valdez wears nitrile gloves while handling a bat for testing of white-nose syndrome.
FORT-USGS Biologist Ernest Valdez wears nitrile gloves while handling a bat for testing of white-nose syndrome. Photo by Kenneth Ingham, permission given.
Long-eared bat (Myotis evotis) held for microbiota study El Malpais National Monument
Research Wildlife Biologist, Ernie Valdez, holds a long-eared bat (Myotis evotis) that will be swabbed for bacteria that may serve as natural defenses against white-nose syndrome. Photo by Kenneth Ingham, permission given.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the spring and summer of 2016, FORT Scientist Dr. Ernie Valdez and his collaborators at the University of New Mexico sampled bats from all BEOL, CAVO, and PECO in an effort to document naturally occurring bacteria belonging to the group known as Actinobacteria. In general, this particular group of bacteria is known for producing many of the world’s antibiotics. As shown in previous research by Dr. Valdez and his collaborators, some Actinobacteria sampled from the external surfaces of western bats produce antifungal properties that impact the growth of P.d. The discovery and future testing of the anti-fungal properties from these bacteria may lend themselves as possible bio-control agents against WNS.

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