A culture-based survey of fungi in soil from bat hibernacula in the eastern United States and its implications for detection of Geomyces destructans, the causal agent of bat white-nose syndrome
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The recent emergence of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease causing unprecedented mortality among hibernating bats of eastern North America, has revealed a knowledge gap regarding fungal communities associated with bats and their hibernacula. We used culture-based techniques to investigate the diversity of fungi in soil samples collected from 24 bat hibernacula in the eastern United States. Ribosomal RNA regions (internal transcribed spacer and partial intergenic spacer) were sequenced to preliminarily characterize isolates. Geomyces species were one of the most abundant and diverse groups cultured, representing approximately 33% of all isolates. Geomyces destructans was isolated from soil samples from three hibernacula in states where WNS is known to occur, and many of the other cultured Geomyces isolates likely represent undescribed taxa. Further characterization of the diversity of fungi that occur in hibernacula both will facilitate an improved understanding of the ecology of G. destructans within this complex fungal community and provide an opportunity to identify characteristics that differentiate G. destructans from non-pathogenic relatives.