Pathogen dynamics during invasion and establishment of white‐nose syndrome explain mechanisms of host persistence

Winifred F. Frick
Tina L. Cheng
Kate E. Langwig

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Disease dynamics during pathogen invasion and establishment determine the impacts of disease on host populations and determine the mechanisms of host persistence. Temporal progression of prevalence and infection intensity illustrate whether tolerance, resistance, reduced transmission, or demographic compensation allow initially declining populations to persist. We measured infection dynamics of the fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans that causes white‐nose syndrome in bats by estimating pathogen prevalence and load in seven bat species at 167 hibernacula over a decade as the pathogen invaded, became established, and some host populations stabilized. Fungal loads increased rapidly and prevalence rose to nearly 100% at most sites within 2 yr of invasion in six of seven species. Prevalence and loads did not decline over time despite huge reductions in colony sizes, likely due to an extensive environmental reservoir. However, there was substantial variation in fungal load among sites with persisting colonies, suggesting that both tolerance and resistance developed at different sites in the same species. In contrast, one species disappeared from hibernacula within 3 yr of pathogen invasion. Variable host responses to pathogen invasion require different management strategies to prevent disease‐induced extinction and to facilitate evolution of tolerance or resistance in persisting populations.