White-nose syndrome was first documented in the United States in 2006 and has since been associated with mass mortalities of a variety of insectivorous bat species. Several millions of bats have been lost in the past decade as a result of this devastating epidemic. The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) (illustrated here) previously the most widely distributed and abundant bat species in North America – has suffered unprecedented losses and by some estimations could face regional extinction by the year 2026. Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd, is the causative agent behind White-nose syndrome and the first invasive cutaneous ascomycete reported in mammals. Due to its novel pathogenic relationship with North America bats, and its relatively recent appearance limited knowledge of the growth and development of Pd is currently available.
My research focuses on the host-pathogen interaction between the little brown bat and the Pd fungus. I utilize UV transillumination to identify points of infection and track them throughout hibernation. The goal of this research is to present a greater understanding of the infection process in hopes of preventing the spread of this disease and protecting the remaining colonies of little brown bats in North America.
Although my focus for this particular research is the preservation of the little brown bat, my interests broadly lie in the conservation of our planet’s spectacular biodiversity. A lack of public understanding of the importance and threats to our native wildlife presents an imposing challenge to the goals of conservation science. I see improved and accessible communication of scientific research as a method for motivating society toward protecting vulnerable habitats and species. Successful communication comes in a variety of forms; as biologist and an artist, I seek to utilize the accessibility of visual art to build connections between people and nature, and to illustrate science in a way that opens up the conversation to a diverse audience.