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Publication Date

September 2017


Background Infectious diseases of wildlife are increasing worldwide with implications for conservation and human public health. The microbiota (i.e. microbial community living on or in a host) could influence wildlife disease resistance or tolerance. White-nose syndrome (WNS), caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), has killed millions of hibernating North American bats since 2007. We characterized the skin microbiota of naïve, pre-WNS little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) from three WNS-negative hibernation sites and persisting, previously exposed bats from three WNS-positive sites to test the hypothesis that the skin microbiota of bats shifts following WNS invasion. Results Using high-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing on 66 bats and 11 environmental samples, we found that hibernation site strongly influenced the composition and diversity of the skin microbiota. Bats from WNS-positive and WNS-negative sites differed in alpha and beta diversity, as well as in microbiota composition. Alpha diversity was reduced in persisting, WNS-positive bats, and the microbiota profile was enriched with particular taxa such Janthinobacterium, Micrococcaceae, Pseudomonas, Ralstonia, and Rhodococcus. Some of these taxa are recognized for their antifungal activity, and specific strains of Rhodococcus and Pseudomonas are known to inhibit Pd growth. Composition of the microbial community in the hibernaculum environment and the community on bat skin was superficially similar but differed in relative abundance of some bacterial taxa. Conclusions Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that Pd invasion leads to a shift in the skin microbiota of surviving bats and suggest the possibility that the microbiota plays a protective role for bats facing WNS. The detection of what appears to be enrichment of beneficial bacteria in the skin microbiota of persisting bats is a promising discovery for species re-establishment. Our findings highlight not only the potential value of management actions that might encourage transmission, growth, and establishment of beneficial bacteria on bats, and within hibernacula, but also the potential risks of such management actions.


Bats, Mortality, White-nose syndrome

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