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Natural Habitat Preservation and Restoration May Prevent Pathogens That Originate in Wildlife From Spreading To Domesticated Animals and Humans

Protecting and restoring natural habitats could prevent pathogens originating from wildlife from spreading to domestic animals and humans, according to two new companion studies.

restore wildlife habitats

(Photo: ZdenEk Machacek/Unsplash)

The Australian study found that when bats experience food shortages and winter habitat loss in their natural habitat, their populations fragment and they excrete more viruses.

When populations fragment, bats move into populated areas such as farms and cities, according to ScienceDaily.

In years when food was plentiful in their natural habitat during the winter months, the researchers found that bats emptied from agricultural areas to feed in native forests away from human communities.

Using information from the Nature study, a second paper was released Oct. 30 in Ecology Letters titled “Ecological conditions predict the intensity of Hendra virus shedding over space and time from bat reservoirs.”

While previous studies have linked habitat loss to the spread of pathogens, these studies collectively revealed for the first time a mechanism for such events and provide a way to anticipate and prevent them.

Examples of viruses that pass fatally from bats to humans include SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-1, Nipah, Hendra and possibly Ebola.

Sometimes this happens after sending through an intermediary host.

While transmission of Nipah virus is ineffective in humans, Hendra virus has a 57% fatality rate in humans and can be up to 100% lethal.

Plowright and colleagues are investigating other cases of pathogen spillover from wildlife to humans to see if the fundamental mechanisms discovered in this study apply.

After using computer models (known as Bayesian network models) to analyze the data, the researchers identified two causes of overflow: animal encroachment into agricultural areas due to habitat loss and food shortages due to climate change.

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After an El Nio event (high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean), trees that bats depend on for nectar developed buds that failed to bloom the following winter, causing a food shortage.

Few forests remain that produce nectar for bats in winter due to human destruction of forest habitats for farmland and urban development.

Large populations of bats broke up into smaller groups due to lack of food and moved to urban and agricultural areas where weeds, fig, mango and shade trees provided shelter and reliable but less nutrient-dense food sources than nectar.

Read also: Global wildlife trade fueled by income inequality and other social injustices

Creating and restoring habitats for wildlife

Wildlife restoration is a proactive strategy to preserve ecosystem function and prevent future decline, while providing opportunities for local people to interact with nature and thus increase environmental literacy in the greater community, according to ScienceDirect.

Heavily altered landscapes are dotted with recruits of locally extinct animals.

The researchers considered the candidate species and landscapes best suited for wildlife recovery, as well as population genetic, implementation and policy factors, after clearly articulated their vision and considered how they complemented existing theoretical and practical approaches.

This position is aimed primarily at conservation biologists and challenges them to reimagine the domesticated landscapes in which we live and work as vanguards for ecological restoration, despite being relevant to policy formulation, land use planning and restoration practices.

Related article: Study: Legal trade still threatens many animal species

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