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Scientists predict that climate change could have an adverse impact on bats that host future coronaviruses.
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Scientists predict that climate change could have an adverse impact on bats that host future coronaviruses.

Sudy: Present and future distribution of bat hosts of sarbecoviruses: implications for conservation and public health. Image Credit: Binturong-Tonoscarpe / Shutterstock


Although bats are small, they are a huge incubator for viruses like the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2(SARS-CoV-2), which emerged in Wuhan (China) in late 2019.

David T. S. Hayman, Massey University in New Zealand, has led a new study that details the creation and use of an ecological modeling pipeline for bat distribution patterns and data on biodiversity based on climate and land-use relationships.

Global warming and other human-driven habitat change are expected to alter the migration patterns of species, changing the risk from disease from parasites or infections hosted by animals. Because of previous outbreaks caused by SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-CoV-2 strains, bats that host sarbecoviruses pose a particular threat.

The research team’s current projections suggest bat hotspots are increasing around Myanmar and will move east towards hotter locations in Southeast Asia.

Understanding the hotspots where bats host sarbecoviruses can help conservationists avoid species extinction and prepare scientists for another bat-to-human viral outbreak.

The study “Present and future distribution of bat hosts of sarbecoviruses: implications for conservation and public health” was recently published on the bioRxiv* preprint server before peer review.

Sudy: Present and future distribution of bat hosts of sarbecoviruses: implications for conservation and public health. Image Credit: Binturong-Tonoscarpe / Shutterstock
Study: Future and present distribution of bat hosts of Sarbecoviruses: Implications for conservation and public Health. Image Credit: Binturong–Tonoscarpe/ Shutterstock

Modeling details

Ecological niche models were used for studying the distribution of bats that host. Sarbecovirus. The data includes factors such as climate, land karst (an area made up of limestone) and forest that could affect current and future bat migration.

These factors are not the only variables. The researchers also predicted possible shifts of hotspots based upon various climate change scenarios.

Study results

35 bat species were identified to be hosts of sarbecoviruses. The mapping of bat species across the globe revealed that bats are likely to congregate throughout Europe, Indochina and Central Africa.

Seasonal temperatures and cave availability were the most important predictors of species distribution.

Current and future projections indicate that Southeast Asia will have the highest number of bat species. Specifically, 13 bat hotspots will be in Myanmar, and 12 species will be in China, Lao’s People Democratic Republic, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Present (A, C) and future (B, D) distribution of Sarbecovirus bat host species richness, mostly peaking in Europe and Southeast Asia. Projections for  Sarbecovirus bat host species richness consider the period 2080-2100 (SSP585 scenario, BCC-CSM2-MR global circulation model).
The distribution of Sarbecovirus bat species richness in the present (A,C) and future (B), with a majority of its peaking in Europe, Southeast Asia. Projections of Sarbecovirus bat species richness for the period 2080-2100 are based on the SSP585 scenario, BCC–CSM2-MR global circulation model, and the SSP585 scenario.

However, the researchers warn that future changes to ecological habitats could lead to a decrease in species diversity.

Some species, such a Hipposideros armiger, Hipposideros galeritus, Hipposideros larvatus Expect them to be resilient to disturbances in forest quality or cave dwellings. Other bats belong to Rhinolophus ferrumequinum Rhinolophus affinis They are expected to fall over time.

Researchers created a simulation of extreme global warming that predicted habitat loss. Six species could gain more territory, but there will be a decrease of species overlap.

Currently, the average temperature for host hotspots in southeast Asia is 20.6 °C but is predicted to rise to 22.7 °C. With shrinking availability for climate stable forests, the researchers predict that most habitats in the north, especially on the China border, will be lost — further contributing to a reduction in species diversity and richness.

These results indicate that the location of forest and the proximity to karst and rocky landscapes that can create caves or underground streams are key factors in determining the distribution of bat hosts.

Although the researchers didn’t create simulations based upon mining, they noted that karst availability could change due to mining and limestone quarrying which reduce karst habitats.

A simulation of high carbon-dioxide emissions by 2040 predicted further habitat loss for most bat species. Also, an increase in carbon dioxide levels is expected to shift the bat population from Kat Ku Myanmar into denser forest areas to the east of Laos.

A choropleth bivariate map showing the near current distribution of reported Sarbecovirus bat host species and estimated sampling rate calculated for the filtered dataset, according to potential drivers of residual accessibility bias. Areas in red signal high numbers of Sarbecovirus hosts, but estimated lower sampling rates driven by accessibility.
A choropleth bivariate mapping showing the near-current distribution of Sarbecovirus bat host species. It also shows the estimated sampling rate for the filtered dataset. This map is based on potential drivers of residual accessibility bias. Red areas indicate high numbers of Sarbecovirus hosts. However, accessibility is believed to have a lower sampling rate.

Conservation efforts: Implications

The habitat availability of many bat species is likely to be reduced by rising global temperatures and carbon emission. Researchers actually note that many species are already in decline.

The results suggest that plans to reduce climate change along with strategies to maintain landscape-level habitat connectivity are needed in order for many species to survive.

“This could be done by developing landscape connectivity surfaces that maximize diversity hotspot extensions, with monitoring effective dispersal through genetic and population,” advised the researchers.

*Important Notice

bioRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information


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