Pathophysiology and recovery of myotis lucifugus affected by white nose syndrome
Fuller, Nathan W.
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Critical to our understanding of wildlife diseases is the recovery phase, a period during which individuals clear infections and return to normal patterns of behavior and physiology. Most research on effects of white nose syndrome (WNS), an emerging fungal disease in bats, has focused on the pathophysiology of winter mortality and the effects of WNS on hibernating populations. The period immediately following emergence from hibernation has received little attention, but is a critically important time for survivors of the disease. During this time, survivors face significant physical and physiological challenges as they migrate to summer habitats, potentially begin gestation in the case of reproductive females, and begin to recover from wing damage caused by the fungus, which can be extensive and may greatly increase the energetic cost of flight. In this study, I (1) test the hypothesis that free-ranging bats heal from WNS-induced wing damage, (2) determine how WNS-induced wing damage changes skin surface lipid profiles on free-ranging bats, and (3) describe the temporal process of disease recovery in a colony of captive bats, including analyses of body mass, wing damage, pathogen load, skin surface lipid profiles, and histopathological metrics of WNS. I find that bats can quickly heal from wing damage in the wild and appear healthy as early as mid-July in New England. Analysis of skin surface lipids does not reveal any striking differences between bats with wing damage and those without, although there are trends towards lower total surface lipids and increased levels of cutaneous cholesterol in bats with severe wing damage. Finally, I show that within 40 days of emerging from hibernation, bats quickly clear the fungal infection and gain body mass, undergoing rapid healing of wing damage and changes in skin surface lipid composition. Bats depend on their wings for a variety of vital processes including physiological regulation, locomotion and feeding. To fully understand the consequences of WNS and develop actionable management strategies, it is important to consider the long-term effects of this disease. My study helps fill critical knowledge gaps and will aid in the future conservation and management of affected bat species.