Wildlife & Biodiversity

Four new fungi species discovered on bat carcasses in China

One of the fungal genus is known to contain numerous aggressive pathogens that can infect mammals, according to researchers

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Friday 03 July 2020

A subterranean expedition by a group of researchers in China has led to the discovery of four novel fungal species on bat carcasses.

The four new species are Mortierella rhinolophicola; M multispora; M yunnanensis; and Neocosmospora pallidimors

The expedition, in an underground limestone karst system, was undertaken by researchers from World Agroforestry (ICRAF) East and Central Asia Program-Centre for Mountain Futures and Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The results of the study were published in journal Emerging Microbes and Infections on June 30, 2020.

Neocosmospora pallidimors, according to researchers, is particularly important as the Neocosmospora genus is known to contain numerous aggressive pathogens that can infect mammals.

“One of the more alarming findings was that many infections related to Neocosmospora, which have previously been associated with human and animal mycotoxicoses (ingestion of toxins produced by fungi affecting liver and endocrine), are thought to be on the rise,” according to the researchers.

“Another fungi species, T harzanium, is also important as it has suppressing capabilities and may have contributed to protecting bats against other infectious fungi. This may be a totally new ecology,” said Peter Mortimer, the author from KIB.

Why is the discovery important

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has shifted the spotlight on bats. Bats carry several viruses and pathogens in their bodies; but it is only when they get transferred to other living beings that the host is affected.

White-nose syndrome, caused by fungi Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has claimed at least six million bat lives since 2006. This fungal growth happens during their hibernation and has been observed in North American bats, according to a study.

“Bats can asymptomatically carry the fungus,” said Samantha Karunarathna, lead author of the study, who is affiliated with ICRAF and KIB. “Though it has caused many deaths among bats in North America, it has not ravaged other global regions. It can appear in other places also.”

Studies have also estimated that if bats disappear from North America, it would result in a staggering $3.7-billion loss to agriculture. This is because bats provide critical ecosystem services; they feed on pests and pollinate fruits.

The study highlighted the importance of understanding relationships between fungal species and other cave organisms, for they may have serious ecological and economic implications.

Greater research into the interactions of these fungal species is required, said the researchers. Currently, there is renewed urgency to understand cave ecosystems as reservoirs of biological diversity and frontiers of scientific exploration.

The authors said they hoped the discovery could trigger a wave of research on fungal species in bats as it did in the case of the White-nose syndrome. 

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