A fungus which has caused the death of over 5.7 million bats in North America has been found in the UK. This deadly fungus, known as by its scientific taxonomy as Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), causes white-nose syndrome in North America and has been discovered in many sites in continental Europe.
Importantly, the fungus was found without the associated syndrome which has caused death to so many bats. In July 2013, the first positive cases of Pd were found in the UK. Up until this point nothing had been found despite a passive surveillance programme which was in place. Whilst there is no evidence that white-nose syndrome is present, it has been confirmed that there are five sites in the south east of England where the fungus is present.
Passive and active surveillance has led to the Pd discovery. The first confirmation came from a swab sample which was taken from a living Daubenton’s bat at a hibernation site in Kent and the others from environmental samples. The environmental samples were collected as part of a small scale pilot study which would trial an active surveillance programme. The test trial was undertaken in collaboration with the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency and Northern Arizona University and involved testing environmental samples for the presence of fungus rather than from the bats directly.
During their annual hibernation visits, the volunteers from both groups would collect sediment and surface samples from six sites in the south west of England. A number of these samples from five of the sites tested positive for the presence of Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Since the samples were collected, there have been no significant mortalities from the positively tested sites, nor any mass mortalities from any other sites in the UK. Pd has been found present across many large parts of Europe but there have been no cases of white-nose syndrome, nor mass death of bats.
It is thought that European bats have a resistance to the fungus possibly due to having evolved over thousands of years of exposure. In North America however, Pd is a novel pathogen so native species do not have the same resistance to the fungus. Following the research carried out by a team at the University College Dublin and after the findings in south east England, it is highly likely that the fungus is present across a wider part of the UK. Additional survey work is required to understand the distribution of Pd and as this has significant implications for bat conservation and the guidance provided to bat workers, the Bat Conservation Trust is looking for funding for further research.