Mycobiome of the Bat White Nose Syndrome Affected Caves and Mines Reveals Diversity of Fungi and Local Adaptation by the Fungal Pathogen Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans

Current investigations of bat White Nose Syndrome (WNS) and the causative fungus Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans (Pd) are intensely focused on the reasons for the appearance of the disease in the Northeast and its rapid spread in the US and Canada. Urgent steps are still needed for the mitigation or control of Pd to save bats. We hypothesized that a focus on fungal community would advance the understanding of ecology and ecosystem processes that are crucial in the disease transmission cycle. This study was conducted in 2010–2011 in New York and Vermont using 90 samples from four mines and two caves situated within the epicenter of WNS. We used culture-dependent (CD) and culture-independent (CI) methods to catalogue all fungi (‘mycobiome’). CD methods included fungal isolations followed by phenotypic and molecular identifications. CI methods included amplification of DNA extracted from environmental samples with universal fungal primers followed by cloning and sequencing. CD methods yielded 675 fungal isolates and CI method yielded 594 fungal environmental nucleic acid sequences (FENAS). The core mycobiome of WNS comprised of 136 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) recovered in culture and 248 OTUs recovered in clone libraries. The fungal community was diverse across the sites, although a subgroup of dominant cosmopolitan fungi was present. The frequent recovery of Pd (18% of samples positive by culture) even in the presence of dominant, cosmopolitan fungal genera suggests some level of local adaptation in WNS-afflicted habitats, while the extensive distribution of Pd (48% of samples positive by real-time PCR) suggests an active reservoir of the pathogen at these sites. These findings underscore the need for integrated disease control measures that target both bats and Pd in the hibernacula for the control of WNS.