Giorgia Auteri, graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, won two awards for her recent presentations at the annual meetings of the North American Society for Bat Research (NASBR) and the Midwest Bat Working Group (MBWG).

Auteri presented a talk titled "Good genes or good luck? Little brown bats show signs of evolutionary adaptation to white-nose syndrome." Professor L. Lacey Knowles is Auteri’s advisor.

The NASBR Luis F. Bacardi Bat Conservation Award goes to a graduate student who gives an excellent presentation on research that advances bat conservation. Its namesake is a member of the Bacardi (rum) family, long-time bat supporters (picture their logo). Luis Bacardi founded the Lubee Bat Conservancy, which funds the award. She won Best Student Oral Presentation from the MBWG.

Nate Fuller, a member of the Board of Directors of the North American Society for Bat Research, presents the Luis F. Bacardi Bat Conservation Award to Giorgia Auteri in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

“White-nose syndrome is a disease that effects bats, and is caused by an invasive fungus that was introduced to North America a little over 10 years ago and is still spreading throughout the continent,” she explained. “The result has been large scale die-offs in bats, often with around 95 percent of individuals in a population dying.”

At the conferences, Auteri spoke about her work investigating whether disease-survivors are genetically less-susceptible to the disease. She focused on little brown bats in Michigan, just one of many afflicted species, and compared the genetics of bats they found dead from the disease to that of the survivors found in the wild. More specifically, her talk emphasized how protecting this migratory species in both its summer and winter ranges is important for their conservation. Her findings suggest that what these bats do in summer (putting on fat for hibernation) is important for their ability to survive the winter hibernation period when the disease effects them.

“My results suggest that the surviving little brown bats in Michigan are genetically predisposed to be tolerant of the disease. This means that there is the potential for the population to eventually recover (via evolutionary adaptation), which is useful informing conservation efforts in terms of the tempo and pace of resource allocation.”