White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease among hibernating North American bats caused by the psychrophilic fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Since its discovery in New York state, US, in 2006, and as of 2020, WNS has rapidly spread to 34 American states and seven Canadian provinces, causing precipitous declines of native bat populations across North America. The rapid spread of this fungal pathogen has been facilitated by the social behavior of bats, as well as the ability of subterranean hibernacula to support a favorable environment for P. destructans, and is probably exacerbated by anthropogenic transmission events. Although many bat species roost in natural cave environments, bats also selectively use diverse structures for hibernacula. Certain areas of the US lack caves, forcing bats to select different winter roosting environments. Bats have been observed using roadway-associated structures, such as bridges and culverts, for roosting, especially in regions that lack natural cave environments. However, the potential for P. destructans transmission in such roadway-associated structures requires further investigation. Understanding potential pathogen transmission in these widely used anthropogenic structures is crucial to disease management and preventing further declines of imperiled bat populations. Our study investigated these structures as potential pathogen transmission corridors by surveying the use of these structures by Perimyotis subflavus and other susceptible bat populations and by measuring their temperature. The results suggest the environments of roadway-associated culverts are thermally conducive to the proliferation of P. destructans—even in regions with mild winters—and the development of WNS in susceptible bat populations. It is apparent these roadway-associated structures have the potential to spread P. destructans and exacerbate the effect of WNS on susceptible bat populations.
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Vol. 58 • No. 2