The fungus that causes white nose syndrome (WNS), a lethal disease of bats, has been detected in low levels in California for the first time. Fungal DNA from Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) was detected in samples collected this spring from bats on private land in Plumas County town of Chester. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have been preparing for the possible detection of the fungus with partner organizations since 2009. While there is currently no indication the disease itself affects the bats stocks in California, the laboratory tests indicate. that Pd is here.
WNS awakens bats during sleep, causing them to use energy reserves needed to survive the winter when insects they trust are not available. The fungus was first discovered in New York in 2006 and spread gradually. Bats that have contracted the disease have now been confirmed in 33 states and seven Canadian provinces. Including the latest California discovery, the fungus alone has now been discovered in a total of five states.
WNS has killed millions of bats in the United States, including more than 90 percent of bats in some hibernation. Since bats usually only produce one offspring a year, it can take decades to get some populations to recover from a major death.
"WNS is considered one of the deadly wildlife diseases that has killed over six million North American bats since it was discovered," said CDFW Wildlife Veterinarian and Epidemiologist Dr. Deana Clifford. "WNS has no influence on human health or pets, but the ecological effects of bat die-offs can indirectly affect farming systems by losing the natural pesticidal effect and nutrient cycle of bats."
Until spring 2016, the westernmost occurrence of Pd was in eastern Nebraska. In March of that year, WNS was confirmed in Washington State-1,300 miles west of the nearest known location of the fungus. How it was unknown; PD is spread through physical contact with an infected bat or PD in the environment. Because spores are persistent, people can also spread the fungus from infected areas to uninfected areas on their shoes, clothing or gear.
Monitoring for WNS has been supported by a national program administered by the USGS Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin, in collaboration with FWS, Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Bat Conservation International (BCI). CDFW has been working with the National Park Service Klamath Network (NPS KLMN) and others to collect swab samples from bats around California since 2016. The samples tested for the DNA signature of Pd were negative until 2018, when a sample from A small brown bat-maternity colony in Chester suggested the fungus may be present at low levels. In 2019, the same site and another in Chester gave three bats with similar low-level detections.
Dr. Alice Chung-MacCoubrey of NPS KLMN, who led the monitoring work in Chester and several other northern California sites, said: "The discovery of Pd in Chester, even at these low levels, is disturbing. It has now been proven in two on each other The following year at two different locations and with tests by both NWHC lab and NAU lab. In other parts of North America affected by the WNS, low Pd detections occurred prior to detecting the disease even with one to four years. " "Detection of Pd at the levels reported in Chester is possible thanks to advanced tools and monitoring networks in place today that we did not have in the years right after WNS was discovered," said Jeremy Coleman, National White-nose Syndrome coordinator for FWS. which leads the national response to the disease. "These very early signs that Pd is present allow for a more proactive response from local partners than was previously possible. How long we have before WNS appears in California's bats is a great unknown." 19659003] CDFW leads the California WNS Steering Committee, a multi-agency scientific research group that has monitored WNS nationally since 2009. The committee includes FWS, NPS, US Forest Service, USGS, BCI, California State Parks, US Department of Defense and National Speleological Society (NSS). They developed a WNS response plan for California that describes actions to be taken if the fungus or disease arrives in California.
"It is critically important for CDFW and our partners to follow up on these detections," said CDFW Wildlife Ecologist Dr. Scott Osborn. "In the coming months and years, we will intensify the monitoring of the WNS, monitor the effects on the bat populations and help with research on disease management. We hope that disease management and prevention techniques currently under development will soon be available."  Meanwhile, Osborn is asking all Californians to be vigilant and cooperate with management actions that can be taken to curb the spread of WNS. People can help with monitoring by reporting unusual behaviors they see in bats. Sick or dying bats observed in the winter in the colder regions of the state must be reported to CDFW at www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/laboratories/wildlife-investigations/monitoring/wns/report .  According to Osborn, caving organizations like the NSS have helped gather important information about California's underground bat roosts. People entering caves and mines should follow decontamination protocols on www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/decontamination information and do not transfer clothing or gear between specific locations.
Details of WNS and Pd are on www.whitenosesyndrome.org .
For photos and B-roll video, visit the NewsNewsNews Syndrome National Response Team at www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/news .
Information on bat conservation is available at www.batcon.org .