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Title: Pathogen spillover driven by rapid changes in bat ecology
Abstract During recent decades, pathogens that originated in bats have become an increasing public health concern. A major challenge is to identify how those pathogens spill over into human populations to generate a pandemic threat 1 . Many correlational studies associate spillover with changes in land use or other anthropogenic stressors 2,3 , although the mechanisms underlying the observed correlations have not been identified 4 . One limitation is the lack of spatially and temporally explicit data on multiple spillovers, and on the connections among spillovers, reservoir host ecology and behaviour and viral dynamics. We present 25 years of data on land-use change, bat behaviour and spillover of Hendra virus from Pteropodid bats to horses in subtropical Australia. These data show that bats are responding to environmental change by persistently adopting behaviours that were previously transient responses to nutritional stress. Interactions between land-use change and climate now lead to persistent bat residency in agricultural areas, where periodic food shortages drive clusters of spillovers. Pulses of winter flowering of trees in remnant forests appeared to prevent spillover. We developed integrative Bayesian network models based on these phenomena that accurately predicted the presence or absence of clusters of spillovers in each of the 25 years. Our long-term study identifies the mechanistic connections between habitat loss, climate and increased spillover risk. It provides a framework for examining causes of bat virus spillover and for developing ecological countermeasures to prevent pandemics.  more » « less
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  1. null (Ed.)
    Nipah virus is a bat-borne paramyxovirus that produces yearly outbreaks of fatal encephalitis in Bangladesh. Understanding the ecological conditions that lead to spillover from bats to humans can assist in designing effective interventions. To investigate the current and historical processes that drive Nipah spillover in Bangladesh, we analyzed the relationship among spillover events and climatic conditions, the spatial distribution and size of Pteropus medius roosts, and patterns of land-use change in Bangladesh over the last 300 years. We found that 53% of annual variation in winter spillovers is explained by winter temperature, which may affect bat behavior, physiology, and human risk behaviors. We infer from changes in forest cover that a progressive shift in bat roosting behavior occurred over hundreds of years, producing the current system where a majority of P. medius populations are small (median of 150 bats), occupy roost sites for 10 years or more, live in areas of high human population density, and opportunistically feed on cultivated food resources—conditions that promote viral spillover. Without interventions, continuing anthropogenic pressure on bat populations similar to what has occurred in Bangladesh could result in more regular spillovers of other bat viruses, including Hendra and Ebola viruses. 
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  2. Abstract

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