By Liliana Wolf
Modeling Suitability for White-nose Syndrome Fungus in Texas and Mexican Karst Regions
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a deadly introduced fungal disease that has led to deaths of millions of North American bats since it was first documented in 2006. Since this first documentation, the deadly disease has spread rapidly in all directions and has caused a precipitous decline in North American cavernicolous bat populations. This study aims to generate a predictive model to assess the potential spread of P. destructans, the fungal causal agent of WNS, through karst systems in Texas based on external features that correlate with suitable internal microclimates for fungal growth. An analysis of 43 cave microclimates across the state of Texas reveals a pattern of thermal suitability for P. destructans that correlates significantly with landscape (elevation, lithology) and external climate (mean surface temperature). Applications of this model show seasonally varying patterns of suitability for fungal growth in select regions of Texas karst systems. Similar work conducted in Mexico surveyed four caves in two areas of varying climate and elevation. Results from these surveys show that microclimates of Mexican caves are likely able to sustain the growth of P. destructans and could act as stepping stones for the fungus, allowing it to travel southward. The resulting work will inform Texas and Mexico researchers of areas of significant concern while monitoring the spread of WNS.
Lilianna Wolf is a researcher and graduate student at Texas A&M University. Her thesis research investigates the spread of white-nose syndrome disease among bats in Texas and Mexico. Aside from her research, Lilianna is a worker at the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service where she contributes to projects examining issues of environmental conservation, conflict, and global health. She has held research associate positions and positions in environmental consulting.
Rufford Grants Web page: https://www.rufford.org/projects/lilianna_wolf