»  Genetic Studies on the Impact of White Nose Syndrome on Bats

Genetic Studies on the Impact of White Nose Syndrome on Bats

White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is having a devastating effect on bat populations in northeastern USA. All six hibernating species of bats have been affected by WNS.  However, the little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) has been impacted most severely, with some populations declining by more than 90% since the syndrome was first observed in 2006. Although M. lucifugus is a relatively common species, if the current trend continues, some experts fear that these bats will become locally extinct in the northeastern USA within a few years.

And so the race is on, not only to identify and understand the causes of WNS, but also to try to mitigate its impact, particularly on the most severely affected species.  To do this effectively, it is important to understand the population structure of M. lucifugus, and to study the impact the population decline is likely to have on the genetic health of the population.

Researchers are using molecular methods to collect baseline genetic data on little brown myotis populations across the Northeast. To do this, we need large numbers of samples from a broad geographic range, including from colonies not yet affected by WNS.  We are using genetic tools to determine current levels of genetic variation, whether gene flow among colonies is sex-biased, and how the genetic diversity is distributed geographically among populations. In other words, how healthy are M. lucifugus colonies (pre-WNS) in genetics-terms, how are they related to one another, and does one sex play a larger role in mediating gene flow? These data will provide invaluable information on the current status and estimated size of the little brown myotis population, and will enable us to track changes in population size and loss of genetic diversity over time.