Authors: Melissa B. Meierhofer, Thomas M. Lilley, Lasse Ruokolainen, Joseph S. Johnson, Steven Parratt, Michael L. Morrison, Brian L. Pierce, Jonah W. Evans, Jani Anttila

Predicting the emergence and spread of infectious diseases is critical for effective conservation of biodiversity. White-nose syndrome (WNS), an emerging infectious disease of bats, has resulted in high mortality in eastern North America. Because the fungal causative agent Pseudogymnoascus destructans is constrained by temperature and humidity, spread dynamics may vary greatly by geography. Environmental conditions in the southern part of the continent, where disease dynamics are typically studied, making it difficult to predict how the disease will manifest. Herein, we modeled the spread of WNS in Texas based on available cave densities and average dispersal distances of species occupying these sites, and projected these results out to 10 years. We parameterized a predictive model of WNS epidemiology and its effects on hibernatory bat populations with observed environmental data from bat hibernation sites in Texas. Our model suggests that bat populations in northern Texas will be more affected by WNS mortality than southern Texas. As such, we recommend prioritizing the preservation of large overwintering colonies of bats in north Texas through management actions. Our model further illustrates that infectious disease spread and infectious disease severity can become uncoupled over a gradient of environmental variation. Finally, our results highlight the importance of understanding host, pathogen and environmental conditions in various settings to elucidate what may happen across a breadth of environments.

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This article is a preprint.