Science & Environment

UK bats may be immune to killer fungus

Two hibernating bats
Image caption In North America the fungus typically affects hibernating bats

A deadly fungus thought responsible for killing nearly six million bats in North America since 2006 has been found in the UK with no harmful effects.

The fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans has been discovered on a living bat and in soil samples from five sites.

There have been no observed deaths in the UK suggesting UK bats they may be resistant to the fungus

In the US it causes White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) and leads bats to arouse more frequently from hibernation.

The fungus has previously been found at sites across Europe, but without WNS or the associated large numbers of dead bats. It is likely European bats are also immune to the disease.

Bat Conservation Trust's Julia Hanmer said: "We believe that as with other countries in Europe, UK bats may be resistant to this fungus, because we're not seeing any signs of bats dying as a result of this fungus being present.

"Our understanding is that this fungus has been present in Europe for a very long time and that bats have grown a resistance to it. It's been introduced in North America where bats have not been exposed before and don't have resistance, that's why they're dying in large numbers."

She told BBC News she was "cautiously optimistic" that UK bats were resistant but that more monitoring was needed.

"This is a theory at the moment that's still being tested. We want to establish whether the fungus is widespread across the whole country.

"We've only looked at Kent and Sussex in a pilot study but we want to see whether it's in soil right across the UK and whether there are more bats with the fungus."

Environmental samples from five sites in Kent and Sussex found traces of the fungus. It was also found on a bat, swabbed as part of a surveillance programme. The bat was found to be healthy despite the fungus on one of its ears and no dead bats have been found at the site.

It's not clear whether the disease has been brought to the UK and Europe recently or whether it has been present for a long time.

Hanmer added that it was important that further investigations were carried out during the next winter hibernation period, to better understand the effect of the fungus on UK bats.

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