Mobility and infectiousness in the spatial spread of an emerging fungal pathogen

Kate E. Langwig, J. Paul White, Katy L. Parise, Heather M. Kaarakka, Jennifer A. Redell, John E. DePue, William H. Scullon, Jeffrey T. Foster, A. Marm Kilpatrick, Joseph R. Hoyt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Emerging infectious diseases can have devastating effects on host communities, causing population collapse and species extinctions. The timing of novel pathogen arrival into naïve species communities can have consequential effects that shape the trajectory of epidemics through populations. Pathogen introductions are often presumed to occur when hosts are highly mobile. However, spread patterns can be influenced by a multitude of other factors including host body condition and infectiousness. White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a seasonal emerging infectious disease of bats, which is caused by the fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Within-site transmission of P. destructans primarily occurs over winter; however, the influence of bat mobility and infectiousness on the seasonal timing of pathogen spread to new populations is unknown. We combined data on host population dynamics and pathogen transmission from 22 bat communities to investigate the timing of pathogen arrival and the consequences of varying pathogen arrival times on disease impacts. We found that midwinter arrival of the fungus predominated spread patterns, suggesting that bats were most likely to spread P. destructans when they are highly infectious, but have reduced mobility. In communities where P. destructans was detected in early winter, one species suffered higher fungal burdens and experienced more severe declines than at sites where the pathogen was detected later in the winter, suggesting that the timing of pathogen introduction had consequential effects for some bat communities. We also found evidence of source–sink population dynamics over winter, suggesting some movement among sites occurs during hibernation, even though bats at northern latitudes were thought to be fairly immobile during this period. Winter emergence behaviour symptomatic of white-nose syndrome may further exacerbate these winter bat movements to uninfected areas. Our results suggest that low infectiousness during host migration may have reduced the rate of expansion of this deadly pathogen, and that elevated infectiousness during winter plays a key role in seasonal transmission. Furthermore, our results highlight the importance of both accurate estimation of the timing of pathogen spread and the consequences of varying arrival times to prevent and mitigate the effects of infectious diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1134-1141
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Geomyces destructans
  • Pseudogymnoascus destructans
  • infectious disease
  • migration
  • pathogen seasonality
  • white-nose syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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