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Bat conservation and zoonotic disease risk: a research agenda to prevent misguided persecution in the aftermath of COVID-19

Bat conservation and zoonotic disease risk: a research
agenda to prevent misguided persecution in the aftermath
of COVID-19
R. Rocha
, S. A. Aziz
, C. E. Brook
, W. D. Carvalho
, R. Cooper-Bohannon
, W. F. Frick
J. C.-C. Huang
, T. Kingston
, B. Maas
, F. Mathews
, R. A. Medellin
K. J. Olival
, A. J. Peel
, R. K. Plowright
, O. Razgour
, H. Rebelo
, L. Rodrigues
S. J. Rossiter
, D. Russo
, T. M. Straka
, E. C. Teeling
, T. Treuer
, C. C. Voigt
P. W. Webala
1 CIBIO/InBIO-UP, Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, University of Porto, Vair~
ao, Portugal
2 CEABN-InBIO, Centre for Applied Ecology “Prof. Baeta Neves”, Institute of Agronomy, University of Lisbon, Tapada da Ajuda, Lisbon,
3 Project Pteropus, Rimba, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
4 Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA
5 Programa de P
ao em Biodiversidade Tropical, Universidade Federal do Amap
a, Macap
a-AP, Brazil
6 School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK
7 Bats without Borders, Blantyre, Malawi
8 Bat Conservation International, Austin, Texas, USA
9 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, USA
10 Formosan Golden Bat’s Home, Shuilin Township, Yunlin County, Taiwan
11 Department of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA
12 Natural Sciences Museum of Granollers, Granollers, Catalonia, Spain
13 Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
14 Institute of Zoology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria
15 University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
16 Instituto de Ecolog
ıa, Universidad Nacional Aut
onoma de M
exico, M
exico City, M
17 EcoHealth Alliance, New York, NY, USA
18 Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland, Australia
19 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA
20 Biosciences, University of Exeter, Hatherly Laboratories, Exeter, UK
21 Instituto da Conservac
ao da Natureza e das Florestas, Lisboa, Portugal
22 School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK
23 Dipartimento di Agraria, Universit
a degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, via Universit
a 100, Portici (Napoli), Italy
24 Institute of Ecology, Technische Universit
at Berlin, Berlin, Germany
25 School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
26 College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA
27 Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany
28 Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, Maasai Mara University, Narok, Kenya
Ricardo Rocha, CIBIO-InBIO, Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, University of Porto, Rua Padre Armando Quintas,
4485-661 Vair~
ao, Portugal. Tel: +351 252 660 400
doi: 10.1111/acv.12636
COVID-19 has spread around the globe, with massive
impacts on global human health, national economies and
conservation activities. In the timely editorial about conserva-
tion in the maelstrom of COVID-19, Evans et al. (2020)
urged the conservation community to collaborate with other
relevant sectors of society in the search for solutions to the
challenges posed by the current pandemic, as well as future
zoonotic outbreaks. Considering the association of COVID-
19 with bats (Zhou et al., 2020), bat conservationists will
undoubtedly be key actors in this dialogue, and thus an
action plan on how best to adjust bat conservation to this
new reality, alongside a transdisciplinary research agenda,
are clear priorities.
In spite of widespread recognition that bat-associated zoo-
notic spill-over events are largely rooted in human activities
(Brierley et al., 2016), bats are often presented as the
Animal Conservation  (2020)  ª2020 The Zoological Society of London 1
Animal Conservation. Print ISSN 1367-9430
culprits of viral spill-over, with real-world repercussions for
conservation efforts (L
opez-Baucells, Rocha & Fern
Llamazares, 2018). With around one-third of the worlds
>1400 bat species classied as threatened or data decient
by the IUCN Red List (Frick, Kingston & Flanders, 2019),
even a few misguided actions can have long-lasting impacts
on the viability of fragile bat populations. As such, avoiding
public vendetta due to unwarranted negative associations
between bats and zoonoses has become a pressing need since
the emergence of COVID-19 (MacFarlane & Rocha, 2020).
Bats play critical roles in natural and human-modied
ecosystems, providing numerous services that contribute to
human well-being, such as suppression of agricultural pests,
consumption of pathogen-carrying arthropods, and pollination
and seed dispersal of ecologically-, culturally- and economi-
cally important plants (Kunz et al., 2011; Russo, Bosso &
Ancillotto, 2018). Yet, although evidence of important bat-
mediated services continues to accumulate, so too does
research highlighting links between bats and virulent patho-
gens (Schneeberger & Voigt, 2016). The recently established
phylogenetic link between SARS-CoV-2, the causal agent of
COVID-19, and its most similar known coronavirus relatives
(Bat CoV RaTG13 and RmYN02), found in wild horseshoe
bats Rhinolophus spp. (Zhou et al., 2020), has further rein-
forced the association between bats and zoonotic disease
risk. Worryingly, reports of COVID-related backlash against
bats are emerging from around the world, including testi-
monies of actual or intended bat killings in Peru, India, Aus-
tralia and Indonesia (see Dur
an, 2020; Goyal, 2020; Lentini
et al., 2020; Tsang, 2020), and accounts of Rwandan author-
ities blasting a colony of straw-coloured fruit bats Eidolon
helvum (classied as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red
List) with water from a high-pressure re hose (P.W.
Webala, pers. comm.). Even stakeholders who stand to gain
from bat conservation have concerns resulting from often
misleading media statements and assumptions linking all bats
to SARS-CoV-2 or transmission of COVID-19. In Malaysia,
for example, some sellers of durian, a culturally and eco-
nomically important fruit crop throughout Southeast Asia that
is largely pollinated by fruit bats (Aziz et al., 2017), have
declined to associate their businesses with bat-related out-
reach, fearing that an anti-bat public backlash might affect
them (S.A. Aziz, pers. comm.). Increasing awareness about
the zoonotic risks associated with the consumption of wild-
life might curtail legal and illegal trade of wild animals
(Evans et al., 2020), thereby potentially reducing hunting
pressure on some bat species. Yet, while communicating the
real health risks associated with hunting, trading and eating
bats might be needed to change risky human behaviours,
negative and fear-inducing messages linking wild bats to
zoonoses might further induce animosity towards the group,
thereby compromising their conservation (MacFarlane &
Rocha, 2020).
Evidence shows that culling and disturbance of bat colo-
nies, have been unsuccessful in eliminating the risk of zoo-
notic spill-over and even increased the proportion of infected
animals in other bat-virus systems (e.g. Streicker et al.,
2012; Amman et al., 2014). Added to that, conservationists
have repeatedly emphasized the need for a balanced dis-
course when communicating zoonotic risks related to bats
opez-Baucells et al., 2018). Yet, even well-framed mes-
sages risk reinforcing negative associations between bats and
infectious diseases, risking unintended consequences
(MacFarlane & Rocha, 2020). Conservationists and health
ofcials are, therefore, confronted with the challenge of
informing the public about the potential health risks associ-
ated with bats, without eroding already limited support for
their conservation. This complex problem requires an inte-
grated, transdisciplinary research agenda to support the
design of evidence-based guidance and action plans on how
to minimize zoonotic health risks while supporting bats and
their associated ecosystem services. Although the key prior-
ity areas to resolve and some of the intricacies associated
with bat conservation and zoonotic disease risk are context-
specic, we consider that there is a clear need to prioritise
and invest resources into holistic, in-depth applied research,
as well as multidisciplinary communication and collabora-
tion, on the following:
1 characterization of bat-pathogen ecology and evolution
(Hayman et al., 2013; Brook et al., 2020), including further
work on host population distribution and pathogen transmis-
sion dynamics, pathogenesis and immunology of bat infec-
tions, and pathogen and host community interactions;
2 identication of potential drivers of bat-associated zoonotic
spill-over events, including risk assessments and mitigation
strategies related to the effects of:
i human encroachment into wildlife habitats and associ-
ated habitat loss and deterioration (White & Razgour,
in press),
ii bat harvesting (Mildenstein, Tanshi & Racey, 2016)
and guano extraction,
iii cohabitation/coexistence between synanthropic bats
and humans (Russo & Ancillotto, 2015; L
cells, et al., 2017),
iv interactions between bats and other species that may
act as intermediate hosts, including domestic (e.g. Pul-
liam et al., 2012; Khayat et al., 2020) and wild ani-
mals (Menachery et al., 2015) that are brought into
close proximity with bats by humans, for example, in
agricultural settings, animal farming or live-animal
v risk of pathogen transmission to bats from humans or
other species (Olival et al., in press);
3 investigation of the human dimensions of bat conservation
(Kingston, 2016). Conservation psychology will play a
key role in changing behaviours associated with spill-over
risks and in building support for bat conservation follow-
ing COVID-19 (MacFarlane & Rocha, 2020). Priorities for
promoting behaviour change include:
i assessment of drivers of human behaviours towards bats
(e.g. attitudes, emotions, values) with a focus on con-
servation and strategies to reduce zoonotic spill-over
risk (Shapiro et al., 2020),
2Animal Conservation  (2020)  ª2020 The Zoological Society of London
Bat conservation and zoonotic risk R. Rocha et al.
ii identication of human-bat conicts (e.g. fruit crop
raiding, urban roosting) and assessment of evidence-
based and ethically acceptable interventions to reduce
such conicts (e.g. Tollington et al., 2019),
iii quantication of known and potential ecosystem ser-
vices provided by bats, including those linked to
human health and well-being (e.g. consumption of dis-
ease-carrying mosquitoes and suppression of agricul-
tural pests; Williams-Guill
en et al., 2016; Kemp et al.,
iv development of context-specic guidelines for commu-
nicating about bat-borne zoonoses and conservation
that deliver accurate information and practical recom-
mendations, caution against persecution of bats and
promote public health (MacFarlane & Rocha, 2020);
4 investment and increased interaction between bat conserva-
tion networks (e.g. and One
Health initiatives (e.g. and https:// to advance conservation efforts through
holistic and ethical research (Costello et al., 2016; King-
ston et al., 2016; Phelps et al., 2019).
This list is not exhaustive, but in our view, it represents
high-priority collaborative research areas that warrant further
development if we are to better articulate how bat conserva-
tion is part of global conservation solutions and valued by
an increasingly risk-averse society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the already press-
ing need for closer collaboration between bat and human
health researchers, conservation practitioners, public health
and environmental authorities and, importantly, public com-
municators and social media inuencers. Bat-associated
human health risks are largely driven by habitat degradation,
and ecological solutions offer an opportunity for win-win out-
comes for both bats and people (Phelps et al., 2019; Sokolow
et al., 2019). The pandemic will undoubtedly impact conserva-
tion at large (Evans et al., 2020), but its effects on bat conser-
vation, driven by negative perceptions, are likely to be
particularly acute. In a world where bats and humans are
increasingly connected, all stakeholders must work together to
better understand and frame bat-related health risks. Only by
doing so will we be able to provide society with a comprehen-
sive and unbiased understanding of our coexistence with bats,
thus safeguarding the long-term persistence of this diverse
group and the many life-enhancing services it provides.
RR was supported by a ARDITI Madeiras Regional
Agency for the Development of Research, Technology and
Innovation Fellowship (M1420-09-5369-FSE-000002), CEB
by a Miller Postdoctoral Fellowship and NIH Grant # R01-
AI129822-01, AJP by an ARC DECRA Fellowship
(DE190100710), KJO by a US Defense Threat Reduction
Agency Award (HDTRA11710064), RKP by NSF (DEB-
1716698 and DARPA D18AC00031) and ECT by an Irish
Research Council Laureate Award.
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... Further, trust in researchers increased with the pandemic. Trust is an important component when it comes to collaborations and to the resolution of conservation conflicts [40] and the shared increased concern among bat experts for bats and their conservation during the pandemic provides clear opportunities for collaborations to avoid persecution of bats in the aftermath of the pandemic [41]. Lastly, sadness and compassion were higher among bat experts during the pandemic. ...
... In any case, working closely together with the public and their fears and concerns related to e.g., 'living with or close to bats' has received certainly another dimension during this pandemic. Trust in researchers increased among bat experts during the COVID-19 crisis which can be clearly an advantage to foster collaborative efforts and, in fact, calls for collaborative efforts among bat experts appeared since the pandemic [41]. Despite skepticism about the role of emotions within the scientific community [32], decisions are hardly free of emotional processes [14]. ...
Full-text available
Speculations about the origin of SARS-CoV-2 have catapulted bats into the spotlight of scientific and societal attention, with unforeseen consequences for bat conservation. In two global surveys with bat experts before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we assessed their (i) threat perceptions, emotions towards bats and social trust in decision makers and (ii) the predictive potential of emotions, social trust and socio-demographic variables on threat perceptions. We also discuss (iii) the potential influence of the pandemic on threat perception and antecedents (emotions and social trust). We received 495 responses from 65 countries in September 2019 and 320 responses in June 2020 from 77 countries. We identified three major threat categories (indirect, direct and prejudice). Comparing threat perception, emotions and social trust between both surveys, we found that indirect threats (e.g., habitat modification) were considered as crucial, yet less so during the pandemic. During the pandemic, experts rated indirect threats lower and the perceived threat through prejudice (e.g., myths) higher than before the pandemic. During the pandemic, bat experts also expressed more compassion and sadness related to bats and trust in researchers and NGOs, but less trust in laypeople than before the pandemic. Emotions were particularly important predictors for threats through prejudice besides social trust. Socio-demographic variables (e.g., cultural and professional background) had predictive potential predominantly for direct threats (e.g., hunting and trade, wind turbines) and threats through prejudice. Our study highlights the role of emotions and social trust on threat perception among bat experts who remained relatively invisible during the pandemic despite their key role for bat conservation. More importantly, we echo previous calls to be more attentive to ecological grief also within the scientific community; especially as discussions around zoonotic spillover with valued study animals intensify.
... However, they exhibit a high rate of endangerment, with the main conservation threats being forest loss, agricultural expansion, overharvesting, disturbance, and urbanization (Frick et al., 2020). Bats are further threatened by largely erroneous perceptions about their role in emerging infectious diseasesa phenomenon that undermines support for bat conservation, as recently observed in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic (Rocha et al 2021;Shapiro et al., 2021). A misunderstanding of bats' role in emergence of SARS-CoV2, the causative agent of COVID-19 has strengthened negative attitudes towards bats, an issue likely exacerbated by misinterpretations of scientific evidence by the media and that may significantly threaten bats (Lu et al., 2021). ...
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Human-bat interactions are becoming more frequent with growing proximity between people and wildlife. As such, it is important to understand the perspectives of human stakeholders in these interactions, especially considering how media coverage of bats’ potential roles as the reservoirs of the ancestral virus to SARS-Cov2 has exacerbated negative perceptions of bats. We used Q-methodology to describe diverse viewpoints on bat conservation and management and identify areas of consensus among stakeholders in Singapore. We derived perspectives, problems, and priorities for bat conservation and management based on qualitative and quantitative analyses. The results reveal three distinct discourses. The ecocentric viewpoint advocates conserving bats for their intrinsic value. The anthropocentric viewpoint outright rejects the idea of conserving bats because of the perceived public-health threat that bats pose. The third discourse prioritizes educating citizens and enhancing general appreciation for biodiversity. All stakeholders agree on the need to reconsider COVID-19-related concerns about bats and address misconceptions that could hinder conservation. The top recommendation by stakeholders is to assess and improve bat-related attitudes and beliefs so that citizens become more supportive of conserving bats for their inherent value and roles in maintaining Singapore’s ecosystems. Considering both diverging and consensus viewpoints and engaging various stakeholders in conservation and management decisions can yield both attitudinal change and more effective solutions while meeting the ecological and social needs of conservation.
... 31 Since the monkeypox virus, a big doublestranded DNA virus, is better equipped to fix replication faults than an RNA virus like HIV, the now circulating monkeypox virus strain should have acquired only a small number of mutations since it emerged in 2018. 32 Researchers recently stated that after collecting DNA from 15 MPX virus samples and reconstructing their genetic information, they discovered that the true mutation rate was six to twelve times higher than expected. Previous estimations of the substitution rate for Ortho-pox viruses did not predict the large increase in mutation rate seen with MPXV. ...
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The 2022 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup will take place in Qatar and will be a one-of-a-kind mega-crowd gathering. This is the first time in history that people from all over the world would gather in such a concentrated place. There is a higher chance of spreading zoonotic illnesses from one community to another among those who travel internationally, therefore tourists should be aware of the dangers they may face and take precautions. The public health system of the country hosting the event must be equipped to avoid the spread of zoonotic diseases considering the current global climate. The potential for an increase in cases of COVID-19 and monkeypox is notably heightened by this event. Possible exotic diseases such as the Marburg virus disease could also be spread. Due to Qatar's inexperience in hosting such major events, it is crucial to invest heavily in training for the early identification of infectious illnesses and the prevention of their spread among event attendees. Visitors to Qatar 2022 should acquire the most up-to-date information available and be aware of the usual precautions that should be followed. Your immunization record must be up to date. Hospitals and other medical facilities in Qatar would be wise to increase their readiness for mass casualty occurrences given that this small location is hosting such an event for the first time. To better meet the health needs of its population, the government of Qatar should promote health advice materials in different languages and keep an adequate supply on hand. The potential for the emergence of zoonotic diseases is briefly reviewed here considering the upcoming FIFA World Cup in 2022.
... Research on the aforementioned feature is location-specific because reports on diseasemediated (Ebola, COVID-19) pandemics contribute to the generation of negative attitudes toward and persecutions of bats that can spread rapidly across the globe (Guyton & Brook, 2015;Lu et al., 2021;MacFarlane & Rocha, 2020;Rocha et al., 2021a). Likewise, local folklore and mythical beliefs about bats can negatively affect their conservation (da Costa Rego et al., 2015;Kingston, 2016;Liu et al., 2021). ...
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Bat species and their populations are declining globally due to a variety of anthropogenic activities. Human activities, motivated by negative attitudes toward, perceptions of, and poor knowledge and appreciation of these animals, have a major effect on their conservation. Thus, it is important to improve our understanding of bat-human interactions to help design appropriate bat conservation measures. We investigated human-bat interactions in a sample (n = 423) of people living around the Omo Forest Reserve and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, in Southwestern Nigeria. People who considered themselves more vulnerable to disease transmission from bats held more negative perceptions of and beliefs about bats. A major finding in this study suggests that respondents' perceived vulnerability to diseases from bats did not correlate with destructive behaviors toward bats. Participants with a low level of education intentionally killed more bats than those with a higher schooling level. The majority of the participants did not appreciate the role of bats in ecosystems and had a poor understanding of bats' niche in nature and the resulting benefits for humans. We suggest that positive messages that neutralize superstition and myths and highlight the role of bats in ecosystems are urgently needed. This measure could lead to behavioral changes that benefit bats.
In recent years, historians and sociologists of science have shown how turn of the century natural history research and its public communication in Barcelona was intrinsically attached to certain political orientations and the historical context. Likewise, the way society perceived bats and promoted their ecological services has been increasingly researched by the community of bat researchers. In this article, I describe attitudes towards and perceptions of bats in the 'public sphere' of Barcelona in that period and examine them using public communication of science and history of science analytical tools. I performed an exhaustive search of the available newspaper and magazine articles using the Catalan and Spanish words for 'bat' in the online search engines of the national Catalan and Spanish libraries from 1888 to 1929. I compiled and reviewed a wide range of periodicals, covering different political orientations and representing several different types of publication. The articles were classified into four different categories. First, bats were commonly used as a symbol to represent the city and right-wing, conservative politics. Second, bats were often linked to negative adjectives that portrayed them as ugly, disgusting or diabolic. Third, many articles made an active effort to stop children chasing and killing bats. And fourth, I also identified a non-organised group of popularisers across the whole media spectrum who promoted what we call today the ecological services provided by bats, and especially their role as agricultural pest controllers. This study provides a better understanding of science popularisation, and specifically, perceptions of and attitudes towards bats during the studied period. This approach illustrates how historical accounts can be used today to improve perceptions of bats and suggest a more complex context of science popularisation.
The history of pandemic diseases provides a cautionary tale about the vulnerability of human populations to environmental threats. Many have interpreted our current pandemic as evidence of increasing disruption to natural ecosystems and the havoc this can cause as humans are exposed to new pathogens. An initial focus on a Chinese market as the source of the virus turned attention to human interactions with wildlife, and many hope that the pandemic may provide a turning point if the threat of disease stimulates a renewed interest in the conservation of species and wild places. Additionally, declining air pollution and renewed animal activity in human spaces during lockdown emboldened many to push for further environmental measures to be put in place via a green approach to rebuilding economies. On the other hand, global recession will likely limit funding and willingness to invest in conservation measures, potentially signaling a significant retreat from current environmental efforts. Furthermore, problems with solid waste disposal highlight significant environmental challenges associated with the pandemic. Whether short-term environmental improvements associated with the pandemic can be translated into longer-term environmental gains will prove critical to both environmental and public health futures.KeywordsEcologyEnvironmentPollutionPublic healthWildlife
The island nation of Madagascar is home to three endemic species of Old World fruit bat in the family Pteropodidae: Pteropus rufus, Eidolon dupreanum, and Rousettus madagascariensis, all three of which are IUCN Red Listed under some category of threat. Delineation of seasonal limits in the reproductive calendar for threatened mammals can inform conservation efforts by clarifying parameters used in population viability models, as well as elucidate understanding of the mechanisms underpinning pathogen persistence in host populations. Here, we define the seasonal limits of a staggered annual birth pulse across the three species of endemic Madagascar fruit bat, known reservoirs for viruses of high zoonotic potential. Our field studies indicate that this annual birth pulse takes place in September/October for P. rufus, November for E. dupreanum, and December for R. madagascariensis in central-eastern Madagascar where the bulk of our research was concentrated. Juvenile development periods vary across the three Malagasy pteropodids, resulting in near-synchronous weaning of pups for all species in late January–February at the height of the fruiting season for this region. We here document the size range in morphological traits for the three Malagasy fruit bat species, with P. rufus and E. dupreanum among the larger of pteropodids globally and R. madagascariensis among the smaller. All three species demonstrate subtle sexual dimorphism with males being larger than females. We explore seasonal variation in adult body condition by comparing observed body mass with body mass predicted by forearm length, demonstrating that pregnant females add weight during staggered gestation periods and males lose weight during the nutritionally deficit Malagasy winter. Finally, we quantify forearm, tibia, and ear length growth rates in juvenile bats, demonstrating both faster growth and more protracted development times for P. rufus as compared with E. dupreanum and R. madagascariensis. The longer development period for the already-threatened P. rufus further undermines the conservation status of this species as human hunting is particularly detrimental to population viability during reproductive periods. Our work highlights the importance of longitudinal field studies in collecting critical data for mammalian conservation efforts and human public health alike.
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La actual transición epidemiológica que atraviesa la humanidad se caracteriza por la (re)emergencia de agentes infecciosos en la población humana y/o enfermedades infecciosas que se creían controladas o limitadas a ciertas regiones geográficas (Santosa et al. 2014). Las causas de esta (re)emergencia abarcan cambios antrópicos de los ecosistemas (minería, agricultura, ganadería intensiva, urbanización), intercambio masivo de personas por vía aérea, evolución natural de los agentes infecciosos y adaptación a nuevos hospedadores (Harper y Armelagos 2010). Alrededor del 75 % de los eventos de emergencia de enfermedades infecciosas corresponde a agentes virales con origen en la fauna silvestre. Los puntos calientes de emergencia de enfermedades infecciosas se encuentran en regiones tropicales y subtropicales, que representan sitios con gran diversidad de vertebrados (potenciales reservorios de agentes infecciosos) y que experimentan una gran actividad extractiva de recursos naturales (deforestación, agricultura, ganadería, urbanización; Jones et al. 2008).
This dissertation examines the ways in which the ‘truth’ about an outbreak of zoonotic disease stabilises through the labour of sampling animals. While scarcely any case of Ebola had ever been reported in West Africa, the deadliest epidemic to date started in 2013 in the southeastern region of Guinea called ‘Forest Guinea’. Since then, ecologists and virologists from Africa, America and Europe have been conducting the largest investigation into what some frame as the origins of Ebola: they are trying to establish a fuller picture of the processes by which the disease is maintained and infects humans in a place that has become known as one of its ‘hotspots’. During 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork, I closely tracked the Guinean staff of one of those foreign projects – local vets who professionally defined their role as préleveurs (‘samplers’ in English) – while they captured animals, took, and dispatched fluid samples, communicated about the risks of contact with bats, and disclosed the finding of a new species of Ebola virus in bat species. The social sciences have dismantled the idea of singular, hegemonic epidemic origins, and indicated that complex sociospatial conditions allow for epidemics to emerge. This dissertation adopts a different analytical angle and outlines the technological, epistemological, and affective consequences of framing microbiological research as a search for the origin of epidemics. It focuses on the economy of knowledge, epistemological labour, and ethical aspirations of animal préleveurs, whose work is to make a hotspot exist in Forest Guinea. By combining attention to history, the scientific literature and ethnographic fieldwork, I resituate animal sampling within a West African genealogy of asymmetrical extraction and conservation, which crosscuts the colonial sciences, interwar disease ecology, global health, outbreak preparedness, and the newer One Health agenda. At the core of this multifaceted sampling enterprise is an interdependence between anticipatory practices and forms of insecurity – political, economic, environmental. The thesis suggests that insecurity is normalised by hotspot investigations, and that associated social hierarchies, causalities and moralities inflect the local notion of responsibility for the epidemic. Ultimately, insecurity configures the production of evidence about the so-called reservoir of Ebola and leads the hypothesis of a bat origin to gain strength in Guinea. The dissertation chapters foreground the controversies, dissimulation practices, fear, and cynicism that the quest for epidemic origins elicits locally, even as it contributes to imposing a single narrative for disease causality. In so doing, I challenge a social science view that scientific claims become authoritative when the institutions and practices that manufacture them are socially recognised as trustworthy and legitimate, i.e., secure. Instead, insecurity is entangled in the material performances and ethos of préleveurs. Far from only producing scientific evidence for experts, their activity generates clues about Ebola’s origins for many people in Guinea and Africa more generally – with significant consequences for research priorities and prevention policies.
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Bats (Chiroptera) are often viewed negatively by the public. Negative public perceptions of bats may hinder efforts to conserve declining populations. In Belize, the presence of vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus and Diphylla ecaudata) exacerbates the potential for conflicts with humans because of the increased rabies transmission risks. To mitigate these risks, the Belize government provides farmers with assistance to trap and remove vampire bats. In June 2018, we surveyed farmers (n = 44) in and adjacent to the Vaca Forest Reserve in Belize to learn more about their attitudes, knowledge, and experiences with bats. This information may provide new insights and approaches to address farmers' concerns and enhance bat conservation efforts in Belize. Farmers held negative attitudes toward bats, exhibited low knowledge of their ecosystem services, and supported the trapping and use of toxicants to control bat populations to reduce the risk of rabies transmission between vampire bats and livestock. Farmers with livestock had more negative attitudes toward bats than farmers without livestock. Despite farmers reporting depredation incidences with fruit-eating and vampire bats, farmers expressed more negative attitudes toward vampire bats. We recommend that conservation education efforts target all stakeholders in the reserve to increase awareness about the importance of bats to ecosystems and highlight the dangers of indiscriminate trapping. Cumulatively, this may lead to positive attitude changes toward bats and their conservation.
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The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the substantial public health, economic, and societal consequences of virus spillover from a wildlife reservoir. Widespread human transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) also presents a new set of challenges when considering viral spillover from people to naïve wildlife and other animal populations. The establishment of new wildlife reservoirs for SARS-CoV-2 would further complicate public health control measures and could lead to wildlife health and conservation impacts. Given the likely bat origin of SARS-CoV-2 and related beta-coronaviruses (β-CoVs), free-ranging bats are a key group of concern for spillover from humans back to wildlife. Here, we review the diversity and natural host range of β-CoVs in bats and examine the risk of humans inadvertently infecting free-ranging bats with SARS-CoV-2. Our review of the global distribution and host range of β-CoV evolutionary lineages suggests that 40+ species of temperate-zone North American bats could be immunologically naïve and susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2. We highlight an urgent need to proactively connect the wellbeing of human and wildlife health during the current pandemic and to implement new tools to continue wildlife research while avoiding potentially severe health and conservation impacts of SARS-CoV-2 "spilling back" into free-ranging bat populations.
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Cat predation upon bat species has been reported to have significant effects on bat populations in both rural and urban areas. The majority of research in this area has focussed on observational data from bat rehabilitators documenting injuries, and cat owners, when domestic cats present prey. However, this has the potential to under- estimate the number of bats killed or injured by cats. Here, we use forensic DNA analysis techniques to analyze swabs taken from injured bats in the United Kingdom, mainly including Pipistrellus pipistrellus (40 out of 72 specimens). Using quantitative PCR, cat DNA was found in two-thirds of samples submitted by bat rehabilitators. Of these samples, short tandem repeat analysis produced partial DNA profiles for approximately one-third of samples, which could be used to link predation events to individual cats. The use of genetic analysis can complement observational data and potentially provide additional information to give a more accurate estimation of cat predation.
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• Zoonotic pathogens and parasites that are transmitted from vertebrates to humans are a major public health risk with high associated global economic costs. The spread of these pathogens and risk of transmission accelerate with recent anthropogenic land‐use changes (LUC) such as deforestation, urbanisation, and agricultural intensification, factors that are expected to increase in the future due to human population expansion and increasing demand for resources. • We systematically review the literature on anthropogenic LUC and zoonotic diseases, highlighting the most prominent mammalian reservoirs and pathogens, and identifying avenues for future research. • The majority of studies were global reviews that did not focus on specific taxa. South America and Asia were the most‐studied regions, while the most‐studied LUC was urbanisation. Livestock were studied more within the context of agricultural intensification, carnivores with urbanisation and helminths, bats with deforestation and viruses, and primates with habitat fragmentation and protozoa. • Research into specific animal reservoirs has improved our understanding of how the spread of zoonotic diseases is affected by LUC. The behaviour of hosts can be altered when their habitats are changed, impacting the pathogens they carry and the probability of disease spreading to humans. Understanding this has enabled the identification of factors that alter the risk of emergence (such as virulence, pathogen diversity, and ease of transmission). Yet, many pathogens and impacts of LUC other than urbanisation have been understudied. • Predicting how zoonotic diseases emerge and spread in response to anthropogenic LUC requires more empirical and data synthesis studies that link host ecology and responses with pathogen ecology and disease spread. The link between anthropogenic impacts on the natural environment and the recent COVID‐19 pandemic highlights the urgent need to understand how anthropogenic LUC affects the risk of spillover to humans and spread of zoonotic diseases originating in mammals.
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While the current COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on human health and national economies, conservationists are struggling to prevent misguided persecution of bats, which are misleadingly being blamed for spreading the disease. Although at a global level, such persecution is relatively uncommon, even a few misguided actions have the potential to cause irrevocable damage to already vulnerable species. Here, we draw on the latest findings from psychology, to explain why some conservation messaging may be reinforcing misleading negative associations. We provide guidelines to help ensure that conservation messaging is working to neutralize dangerous and unwarranted negative-associations between bats and disease-risk. We provide recommendations around three key areas of psychological science: (i) debunking misinformation; (ii) counteracting negative associations; and (iii) changing harmful social norms. We argue that only by carefully framing accurate, honest, and duly contextualized information, will we be able to best serve society and present an unbiased perspective of bats. We hope this guidance will help conservation practitioners and researchers to develop effective message framing strategies that minimize zoonotic health risks and support biodiversity and its associated ecosystem services.
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The unprecedented pandemic of pneumonia caused by a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, in China and beyond has had major public health impacts on a global scale [1,2]. Although bats are regarded as the most likely natural hosts for SARS-CoV-2 [3], the origins of the virus remain unclear. Here, we report a novel bat-derived coronavirus, denoted RmYN02, identified from a metagenomics analysis of samples from 227 bats collected from Yunnan Province in China between May and October, 2019. Notably, RmYN02 shares 93.3% nucleotide identity with SARS-CoV-2 at the scale of the complete virus genome and 97.2% identity in the 1ab gene, in which it is the closest relative of SARS-CoV-2 reported to date. In contrast, RmYN02 showed low sequence identity (61.3%) to SARS-CoV-2 in the receptor binding domain (RBD) and might not bind to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Critically, and in a similar manner to SARS-CoV-2, RmYN02 was characterized by the insertion of multiple amino acids at the junction site of the S1 and S2 subunits of the spike (S) protein. This provides strong evidence that such insertion events can occur naturally in animal betacoronaviruses.
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As we sit in the vortex of the Covid‐19 outbreak, individual energies are focused on staying safe and juggling the personal, social and financial impacts of the pandemic and political responses to it. These impacts are profoundly re‐shaping our lives, with many commentators suggesting that ‘normality’ will be permanently redefined for all sectors of society. The future is not clear because the maelstrom is so intense that it is unlikely that the dust will settle any time soon. This pandemic will be one of the major game changers for humanity in the 21st Century. The conservation impacts are set to be huge, and this is an understatement.
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Bats host virulent zoonotic viruses without experiencing disease. A mechanistic understanding of the impact of bats' virus hosting capacities, including uniquely constitutive immune pathways, on cellular-scale viral dynamics is needed to elucidate zoonotic emergence. We carried out virus infectivity assays on bat cell lines expressing induced and constitutive immune phenotypes, then developed a theoretical model of our in vitro system, which we fit to empirical data. Best fit models recapitulated expected immune phenotypes for representative cell lines, supporting robust antiviral defenses in bat cells that correlated with higher estimates for within-host viral propagation rates. In general, heightened immune responses limit pathogen-induced cellular morbidity, which can facilitate the establishment of rapidly-propagating persistent infections within-host. Rapidly-transmitting viruses that have evolved with bat immune systems will likely cause enhanced virulence following emergence into secondary hosts with immune systems that diverge from those unique to bats.
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The Mauritius fruit bat (Pteropus niger) has been the subject of repeated culling campaigns, apparently in response to pressure from the fruit-growing industry concerned over damage to commercially valuable orchard crops such as lychees. More than 31,000 fruit-bearing lychee trees also exist in private backyards, making this an issue pertinent to a wide cross-section of the Mauritian general public and not just those involved in commercial fruit production. The level of damage caused by bats to fruit crops is often debated and the low number of robust damage assessment studies hampers mitigation efforts. During the fruiting season of 2016/2017, we assessed the damage among backyard lychee trees attributable to fruit bats and other causes around Vacoas-Phoenix, Central Mauritius and evaluated the impact of using protective netting as a mitigation strategy. Fruit yield from panicles that were protected from depredation by nylon netting was approximately one third greater than that from unprotected panicles. We suspect that fruit bats were responsible for approximately 42% of the total damage but illustrate the difficulties in attributing damage to a single cause in such assessments. Although we demonstrate the value of protective netting, we recognize that barriers to implementation exist and that a more holistic approach that incorporates crop protection, forest restoration strategies and addresses negative public attitudes towards bats in general is required to ensure the persistence of this endemic species.