About This ProjectI will be searching caves across northeastern China for the fungus which causes a devastating disease of bats, called white-nose syndrome. The goal of this project is to determine the origins and global distribution of this fungus, and determine if the disease may pose a risk to Chinese bats.
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What is the context of this research?
White-nose syndrome is a disease of hibernating bats, first detected in the United States in 2006. It has caused precipitous declines in hibernating bats throughout Eastern North America. The disease is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which infects the skin of bats, and disrupts their normal hibernation behavior.
The origins of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome remain unknown. The fungus has been detected in 16 countries in Europe, but no population declines have been observed. European isolates of the fungus are genetically different from the North American strain, suggesting that Europe may not be the source. To date, no one has sampled for the fungus east of Turkey, and thus it is unknown whether the fungus is present in Asia.
What is the significance of this project?
Northern China is an important location to perform this research because it has large numbers of hibernating bats, contains cave temperatures that are similar to those in Europe and North America, and has long winters requiring prolonged bat hibernation. China shares three species of hibernating bats with Europe, and the fungus has been found on the skin of all three species.
My study will provide valuable information on whether the fungus is present in China, and if it is there, how these bats have coexisted with this deadly pathogen. My study will also provide insight into the course this disease might take in the U.S. If the fungus is not found, it is possible that Chinese bats might be vulnerable to this pathogen, and at risk if the pathogen is introduced.
What are the goals of the project?
1. Sample 15-20 caves where bats spend the winter throughout northeastern China.
2. Collect samples from soil substrate, and wall roost locations, which have been shown to be highly infected with the fungus once it is present in a site.
3. Using molecular techniques, test for presence and amount of the fungus in each sample. Sample testing will be conducted at Northeast Normal University, Changchun, China.
4. Culture and sequence the DNA of any positive samples.
5. Compare the DNA sequences to known isolates of the fungus from around North America and Europe to determine the relationship between these isolates. Sequences that are highly similar will be more closely related, and allow for determination of whether the introduced North American strain may have originated in Asia.
I am fundraising to support the cost of traveling within China to collect samples. I received an NSF fellowship which covers my travel to and from China during Summer 2014 and I have received two small grants that cover the cost of my supplies and visits to 4 sites. I would like to sample from 10-15 additional sites but need to raise funds to do so due to the high costs of field travel around China.
The funding I am requesting will fund travel to 4 additional provinces (Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Hebei, and Shandong) in China where I will be collecting samples. My research includes a total of 4 weeks in the field and requires renting a vehicle with driver (Regulations in China require foreigners to obtain a chinese driving license to drive in China - $160/day) to access remote field sites, and local guides (~$200 total) to help locate some of the sites. Searching in additional provinces will increase my chances of detecting the fungus, P. destructans, if it is present, and allow me to map its distribution, and provide greater confidence that the fungus is actually absent if I do not find it in my sampling.
Meet the Team
Team BioGrowing up in a rural area of upstate New York, I spent most of
my childhood lying on the edge of ponds, creeks, and fields observing nature. My upbringing gave me a love of the natural world, and a strong desire to develop conservation strategies that can protect wildlife. I have spent the last five years performing research on how humans can better protect animals from infectious diseases.
As a graduate student, I’ve worked on developing a natural probiotic (beneficial bacteria) for treatment of white-nose syndrome, and studied how bats transmit the fungus. For this work, I’ve explored dozens of caves around the United States, and witnessed the severe destruction that white-nose syndrome can cause. This disease poses one of the most serious threats to wildlife conservation ever experienced, and is estimated to have caused the death of millions of individual bats. I hope that my research efforts can help to shed light on the origin, causes, and consequences of this deadly disease.
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