A lethal fungus associated with the onset of the white-nose syndrome has finally reached Texas, where it has been detected in several northern counties on three species of local bats.

Known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans or Pd, the fungus primarily affects hibernating bats, since it can spread rapidly among clusters of bats living in close quarters.

After decimating bat populations in Canada and other regions of the United States, the Pd fungus has now invaded the Lone Star State, where researchers have identified it on the tri-colored bat, the cave myotis (first known occurrence of Pd on this particular species), and Townsend's big-eared bat (first detection of the fungus on this species's western populations).

"This is devastating news for Texas, and a serious blow for our western bat species," said Bat Conservation International officials in a press release.

Pd's presence in Texas is significant on a national scale, as exposure of western bats to the fungus could potentially trigger its spread into western states.

No Confirmed Cases Of White-Nose Syndrome Yet

This devastating syndrome attacks the skin around the bats's muzzle, ears, and wings, and gets its name from the white fuzzy growth noticeable on the infected animal's nose.

The disease is transmitted primarily from bat to bat, although people can carry fungal spores on their clothing, shoes or caving gear.

According to Katie Gillies, director of Imperiled Species for BCI, the Pd fungus was detected in its early stages of transmission, and none of the hibernating bats belonging to the three affected species pose any visible signs of WNS.

Gillies explains researchers from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have been surveying the flying mammals and preparing for the possible arrival of Pd since 2011. Early detection and the quick mobilization may help biologists hinder the impact of WNS on Texas bats, she adds.

BCI reports the fungus was identified on hibernating bats in six Texas counties: Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Hardeman, King, and Scurry. The samples, gathered by biologists from BCI and Texas A&M University, were investigated by specialists from the University of New Hampshire as part of a large scale collective research project.

Researchers Call For Preventive Efforts To Ensure Bat Population Survival

As Gillies points out, researchers plan to monitor the fungus's transmission paths and to enlist the aid of local landowners in protecting bat roosts and facilitating decontamination, lest Pd accidentally spread to a new location.

Texas is home to 32 bat species and boasts the largest diversity of bat fauna in the United States. The state harbors one of the world's largest Mexican free-tailed bat colonies, which fortunately don't hibernate all throughout the winter and may be less likely to contract WNS.

A 2011 study highlighted the importance of bat populations in agriculture, not only in facilitating pollination, but also in reducing crop loss by keeping insect pests at bay and minimizing the necessity for pesticides.

BCI points out bats provide the state of Texas with "ecological services to agriculture" in value of $1.4 billion every year. Consequently, all efforts to help the animals survive the white-nose syndrome and prevent the spread of the disease are essential not only for conservation purposes but for the agricultural industry as well.

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