Preserving and restoring natural habitats may prevent pathogens that originate in wildlife from spreading to pets and people

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

Wildlife habitat restoration

wild animals

(Photo: Zdeněk Macháček/Unsplash)

The Australian-based study discovered that when bats in their natural habitats suffer from food shortages and the loss of their winter habitat, their groups divide and shed more viruses.

When the population is divided, the bats move to populated areas such as farms and cities, depending on the population informed daily.

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

Using information from the Nature study, a second paper, “Environmental Conditions Predict Hendravirus Excretion Intensity Across Space and Time from Bat Reservoir Hosts,” was released October 30 in Environment Letters.

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

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

Sometimes this happens after sending through an intermediate host.

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

Plowright and colleagues are looking at other cases of pathogen spread from wildlife to humans to see if the underlying 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 spread: animal encroachment in agricultural areas due to habitat loss and food shortages caused by climate change.

After the El Nio (Pacific Warming Warming) event, the trees the bats depended on for nectar developed buds that did not open the following winter, causing food shortages.

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

Large numbers of bats split into smaller groups due to lack of food and moved to urban and agricultural areas where grassy species, figs, mangoes, and shade trees provided shelter and reliable but less nutrient-rich food sources than nectar.

Read also: The global trade in wildlife fueled by income inequality and other social injustices

Create and restore wildlife habitats

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

The seeds of a highly modified landscape are sown with recruits of locally extinct animals.

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

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

Related articles: Study: Legal trade continues to pose a risk to many wildlife species

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