Efficacy of a probiotic bacterium to treat bats affected by the disease white-nose syndrome.
The management of infectious diseases is an important conservation concern for a growing number of wildlife species. However, effective disease control in wildlife is challenging because feasible management options are often lacking. White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an infectious disease of hibernating bats that currently threatens several North American species with extinction. Currently, no effective treatments exist for WNS. We conducted a laboratory experiment to test the efficacy of probiotic treatment with Pseudomonas fluorescens, a bacterium that naturally occurs on bats, to reduce disease severity and improve survival of little brown bats Myotis lucifugus exposed to Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungal pathogen that causes WNS. We found that application of the probiotic bacteria at the time of fungal infection reduced several measures of disease severity and increased survival, whereas bacterial treatment prior to pathogen exposure had no effect on survival and worsened disease severity. Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that probiotic treatment with Ps. fluorescens has potential for white-nose syndrome disease management, but the timing of application is critical and should coincide with natural exposure of bats to P. destructans. These results add to the growing knowledge of how natural host microbiota can be implemented as a biocontrol treatment to influence disease outcomes.