Sociality, density-dependence and microclimates determine the persistence of populations suffering from a novel fungal disease, white-nose syndrome

Author(s): Kate E. Langwig, Winifred F. Frick, Jason T. Bried, Alan C. Hicks, Thomas H. Kunz and A. Marm Kilpatrick

Publication: Ecology Letters

Publication Date: 2012

Abstract: Disease has caused striking declines in wildlife and threatens numerous species with extinction. Theory suggests that the ecology and density-dependence of transmission dynamics can determine the probability of disease-caused extinction, but few empirical studies have simultaneously examined multiple factors influencing disease impact. We show, in hibernating bats infected with Geomyces destructans, that impacts of disease on solitary species were lower in smaller populations, whereas in socially gregarious species declines were equally severe in populations spanning four orders of magnitude. However, as these gregarious species declined, we observed decreases in social group size that reduced the likelihood of extinction. In addition, disease impacts in these species increased with humidity and temperature such that the coldest and driest roosts provided initial refuge from disease. These results expand our theoretical framework and provide an empirical basis for determining which host species are likely to be driven extinct while management action is still possible.