Phenotypic Divergence along Geographic Gradients Reveals Potential for Rapid Adaptation of the White-Nose Syndrome Pathogen,Pseudogymnoascus destructans, in North America Academic Article uri icon

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  • ABSTRACTWhite-nose syndrome (WNS) is an ongoing epizootic affecting multiple species of North American bats, caused by epidermal infections of the psychrophilic filamentous fungusPseudogymnoascus destructans. Since its introduction from Europe, WNS has spread rapidly across eastern North America and resulted in high mortality rates in bats. At present, the mechanisms behind its spread and the extent of its adaptation to different geographic and ecological niches remain unknown. The objective of this study was to examine the geographic patterns of phenotypic variation and the potential evidence for adaptation among strains representing broad geographic locations in eastern North America. The morphological features of these strains were evaluated on artificial medium, and the viability of asexual arthroconidia of representative strains was investigated after storage at high (23°C), moderate (14°C), and low (4°C) temperatures at different lengths of time. Our analyses identified evidence for a geographic pattern of colony morphology changes among the clonal descendants of the fungus, with trait values correlated with increased distance from the epicenter of WNS. Our genomic comparisons of three representative isolates revealed novel genetic polymorphisms and suggested potential candidate mutations that might be related to some of the phenotypic changes. These results show that even though this pathogen arrived in North America only recently and reproduces asexually, there has been substantial evolution and phenotypic diversification during its rapid clonal expansion.IMPORTANCEThe causal agent of white-nose syndrome in bats isPseudogymnoascus destructans, a filamentous fungus recently introduced from its native range in Europe. Infections caused byP. destructanshave progressed across the eastern parts of Canada and the United States over the last 10 years. It is not clear how the disease is spread, as the pathogen is unable to grow above 23°C and ambient temperature can act as a barrier when hosts disperse. Here, we explore the patterns of phenotypic diversity and the germination of the fungal asexual spores, arthroconidia, from strains across a sizeable area of the epizootic range. Our analyses revealed evidence of adaptation along geographic gradients during its expansion. The results have implications for understanding the diversification ofP. destructansand the limits of WNS spread in North America. Given the rapidly expanding distribution of WNS, a detailed understanding of the genetic bases for phenotypic variations in growth, reproduction, and dispersal ofP. destructansis urgently needed to help control this disease.


  • Forsythe, Adrian
  • Giglio, Victoria
  • Asa, Jonathan
  • Xu, Jianping

publication date

  • June 18, 2018