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

According to two new companion studies, protecting and restoring natural habitats could stop pathogens that originate in wildlife from spreading to domesticated animals and people.

restoring wildlife habitats

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(Photo: Zdeněk Macháček/Unsplash)

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

When populations fragment, bats relocate to populated areas like farms and cities, as per ScienceDaily.

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

Using information from the Nature study, a second paper entitled “Ecological Conditions Predict the Intensity of Hendra Virus Excretion over Space and Time from Bat Reservoir Hosts” was released on October 30 in Ecology Letters.

While earlier 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 fatally spill 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, the Hendra virus has a 57% fatality rate in humans and can be up to 100% lethal.

Plowright and colleagues are looking into other instances 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 spillover: animal encroachment into agricultural areas due to habitat loss and food shortages brought on by climate change.

After an El Nio event (high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean), trees that bats rely on for nectar developed buds that did not bloom the following winter, creating a food shortage.

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

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

Also Read: Global Wildlife Trade Fueled by Income Inequality and other Social Injustice

Creating and Restoring 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 thus increase environmental literacy in the larger community, as per ScienceDirect.

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

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

This viewpoint is primarily aimed at conservation biologists and challenges them to re-imagine the domesticated landscapes where we live and work as vanguards for ecological restoration, despite the fact that it is relevant to policy formulation, environmental planning, and restoration practice.

Related article: Study: Legal Trade Still Poses Threat To Many Wildlife Species

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