Long-Term Persistence of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the Causative Agent of White-Nose Syndrome, in the Absence of Bats
Wildlife diseases have been implicated in the declines and extinctions of several species. The ability of a pathogen to persist outside its host, existing as an “environmental reservoir”, can exacerbate the impact of a disease and increase the likelihood of host extinction. Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungal pathogen that causes white-nose syndrome in bats, has been found in cave soil during the summer when hibernating bats had likely been absent for several months. However, whether the pathogen can persist over multiple years in the absence of bats is unknown, and long-term persistence of the pathogen can influence whether hibernacula where bats have been locally extirpated due to disease can be subsequently recolonized. Here, we show that P. destructans is capable of long-term persistence in the laboratory in the absence of bats. We cultured P. destructans from dried agar plates that had been kept at 5°C and low humidity conditions (30–40% RH) for more than 5 years. This suggests that P. destructans can persist in the absence of bats for long periods which may prevent the recolonization of hibernation, sites where bat populations were extirpated. This increases the extinction risk of bats affected by this disease.