White-Nose Syndrome Fungus Discovered in the UK

August 9, 2013 / England, United Kingdom, Europe
A North American Little Brown Bat suffering from white-nose syndrome.

A North American Little Brown Bat suffering from white-nose syndrome. Photo by 9brandon/flickr

The fungus responsible for causing white-nose syndrome in North American bats has been discovered in the United Kingdom.

Psuedogymnoascus destructans, formerly named Geomyces destructans, was found on a live bat in early 2013 and later during sampling at five sites in Kent and Sussex on England’s southeast coast.

Fortunately, unlike in North America, the bat was in good health and there have, so far, been no signs of mass die-offs of bats. This has scientists cautiously optimistic that UK bats, like those across mainland Europe where the fungus had been previously confirmed, may be resistant to the devastating disease.

In North America the fungus causes White-Nose Syndrome and millions of bats have died, in Europe the fungus has been found on bats but the difference is that these animals are alive and appear to be healthy. There is no evidence of WNS in Europe. It is thought that the fungus has been present in Europe for a long time and European bats have developed resilience to it. The fungus was most likely introduced to North America from this side of the Atlantic, hence the dramatic effect it is having on bat populations there, as they have no immunity to the disease. Julia Hanmer, Bat Conservation Trust’s Chief Executive

The sampling was done by the Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) Wildlife Group (under the Diseases of Wildlife Scheme) and Bat Conservation Trust as part of a British surveillance program that was started in 2009 in response to the spread of WNS across North America.

In America the fungus can kill 90-100% of bats in a hibernation roost, in Europe it looks like bats can carry the fungus without affecting the population. Scientists believe that large parts of the UK could be suitable for the fungus but we need to test this theory by carrying out further survey work across the UK during the next winter hibernation period. Current research and findings do indicate that, like in other European countries, the UK’s bats are likely to be resistant. It is very important that we investigate further to better understand the effect of the fungus on UK bats. Julia Hanmer, Bat Conservation Trust’s Chief Executive

As a result of the findings, the Bat Conservation Trust is now asking those visiting bat hibernaculums in the winter to stay vigilant, to follow guidelines and to decontaminate their gear with antifungal spray before and after each visit, particularly if they have been or are about to travel abroad.

Are UK bats immune to White-Nose Syndrome which is killing millions of North American bats? [Bat Conservation Trust]

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