White-nose syndrome restructures bat skin microbiomes

Meghan Ange-Stark, Katy L. Parise, Tina L. Cheng, Joseph R. Hoyt, Kate E. Langwig, Winifred F. Frick, A. Marm Kilpatrick, John Gillece, Matthew D. MacManes, Jeffrey T. Foster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The skin microbiome is an essential line of host defense against pathogens, yet our understanding of microbial communities and how they change when hosts become infected is limited. We investigated skin microbial composition in three North American bat species (Myotis lucifugus, Eptesicus fuscus, and Perimyotis subflavus) that have been impacted by the infectious disease, white-nose syndrome, caused by an invasive fungal pathogen, Pseudogymnoascus destructans. We compared bacterial and fungal composition from 154 skin swab samples and 70 environmental samples using a targeted 16S rRNA and internal transcribed spacer amplicon approach. We found that for M. lucifugus, a species that experiences high mortality from white-nose syndrome, bacterial microbiome diversity was dramatically lower when P. destructans was present. Key bacterial families—including those potentially involved in pathogen defense—significantly differed in abundance in bats infected with P. destructans compared to uninfected bats. However, skin bacterial diversity was not lower in E. fuscus or P. subflavus when P. destructans was present despite populations of the latter species declining sharply from white-nose syndrome. The fungal species present on bats substantially overlapped with the fungal taxa present in the environment at the site where the bat was sampled, but fungal community composition was unaffected by the presence of P. destructans for any of the three bat species. This species-specific alteration in bat skin bacterial microbiomes after pathogen invasion may suggest a mechanism for the severity of white-nose syndrome in M. lucifugus but not for other bat species impacted by the disease. IMPORTANCE Inherent complexities in the composition of microbiomes can often preclude investigations of microbe-associated diseases. Instead of single organisms being associated with disease, community characteristics may be more relevant. Longitudinal microbiome studies of the same individual bats as pathogens arrive and infect a population are the ideal experiment but remain logistically challenging; therefore, investigations like our approach that are able to correlate invasive pathogens to alterations within a microbiome may be the next best alternative. The results of this study potentially suggest that microbiome-host interactions may determine the likelihood of infection. However, the contrasting relationship between Pd and the bacterial microbiomes of Myotis lucifugus and Perimyotis subflavus indicate that we are just beginning to understand how the bat microbiome interacts with a fungal invader such as Pd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • bat populations
  • disease ecology
  • Eptesicus fuscus
  • microbiome
  • Myotis lucifugus
  • Perimyotis subflavus
  • Pseudogymnoascus destructans
  • white-nose syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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