Preserving and restoring natural habitat can prevent pathogens that originate in wildlife from spreading to domestic animals and humans

According to two new complementary studies, protecting and restoring natural habitats could prevent pathogens that originate in wildlife from spreading to domestic animals and people.

wildlife habitat restoration

wildlife

(Photo: Zdeněk Macháček/Unsplash)

The Australia-based study found that when bats in their natural habitats experience food shortages and winter habitat loss, their populations fragment and shed more viruses.

When populations fragment, bats move into populated areas like farms and cities, according to daily science.

In years when food was abundant in their natural habitats during the winter months, the researchers found that the bats left agricultural areas to forage in native forests, far from human communities.

Using information from the Nature study, a second paper titled “Ecological conditions predict intensity of Hendra virus shedding in space and time by bat reservoir hosts” was published in Ecology Letters on October 30.

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 offer a way to anticipate and prevent them.

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

Sometimes this occurs after transmission through an intermediary host.

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

Plowright and his colleagues are investigating other cases of pathogen spread 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 the spillover: animal encroachment on agricultural areas due to habitat loss, and food scarcity caused by climate change.

After an El Niño event (high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean), the trees that bats depend on for nectar developed shoots that did not flower the following winter, creating a food shortage.

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

Large populations of bats split into smaller groups due to lack of food and moved to urban and agricultural areas where weedy, fig, mango, and shade tree species provided shelter and reliable but less nutrient-rich food sources than the nectar.

Also read: Global wildlife trade driven by income inequality and other social injustices

Creation and restoration of wildlife habitats

Wildlife restoration is a proactive strategy to maintain ecosystem function and prevent future declines while presenting opportunities for local people to engage with nature and thereby increase environmental education in the wider community. , according to DirectScience.

Highly modified landscapes are seeded with recruits from locally extinct animals.

The researchers considered the candidate species and landscapes most suitable for wildlife restoration, as well as policy, implementation, and population genetics factors, after clearly articulating their vision and considering how it complements existing theoretical and practical approaches.

This point of view is primarily aimed at conservation biologists and challenges them to reimagine the domesticated landscapes where we live and work as vanguards for ecological restoration, even though it is relevant to policymaking, environmental planning, and restoration practice.

Related article: Study: Legal trade still poses a threat to many wildlife species

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