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THE increasing emergence of virulent infectious diseases not only threatens human populations and livestock: currently some of the most severe mass mortalities and extinctions are affecting wildlife species (Fisher and others 2012). In contrast to traditionally well-recognised viral or bacterial infections, many of these dramatic events are caused by fungal organisms, which had gone unnoticed until recently, when the extent of the problem became apparent. White-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats is recognised as causing one of the worst declines in wildlife mammal populations over the last century. Since its discovery in 2006 in New York State in the USA (Blehert and others 2009), this emerging disease has killed millions of hibernating bats in North America. It is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Minnis and Lindner 2013), previously named Geomyces destructans (Gargas and others 2009), a cold-loving Ascomycete with a temperature preference of 12° to 15°C (Verant and others 2012). P destructans colonises the glabrous skin of insectivorous bats while they hibernate in caves or mines. In addition to conspicuous powder-like white aerial mycelial growths around the muzzle, the fungus grows well on the wing membranes of hibernating bats as these offer a particularly favourable substrate: keratinous organic matter in cool ambient temperature and almost 100 per cent relative humidity.
The disease became apparent when numerous hibernating little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) in New York State were detected dead or dying near cave entrances or were displaying daytime flight in deep winter, and it was found that it was always associated with a distinct external fungal infection. Since 2006, each winter, WNS spreads further to neighbouring states and today 25 federal states of the eastern USA and five …
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