Does Climate Change Contribute to New Bat-Borne Coronaviruses?

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  • Published: 14 February 2021
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH GmbH
thumbnail image: Does Climate Change Contribute to New Bat-Borne Coronaviruses?

Bats are considered the likely origin of the SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 viruses, which cause SARS and COVID-19, respectively. The number of coronaviruses in an area is closely linked to the number of different bat species present. Climate change has shifted the distribution of bats around the globe by driving the growth of forest habitat favored by the animals.

Robert M. Beyer, University of Cambridge, UK, and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, and colleagues have investigated how climate change has impacted global bat diversity and looked for a link between climate change and the emergence of the SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The team estimated and compared the geographical ranges of different bat species in the early 20th century and at the present, based on the vegetation that exists in a specific climate and data about the distribution and vegetation requirements of individual bat species.

The researchers found several regions with a significant increase in bat diversity since the early 20th century: some regions in Central Africa, Central America, and South America, as well as a large hotspot located in the southern Chinese Yunnan province and adjacent regions in Myanmar and Laos. The hotspot is in the same region as the suspected source of the bat-borne viruses that turned into SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2.

According to the team, about 40 additional bat species have moved into this region in the investigated timeframe. Since each bat species carries roughly 2.5 different coronaviruses on average, this would mean an increase in the number of coronaviruses of about 100. This substantial increase might have contributed to an increased risk of transmission from bats to other species, and thus, to the emergence of SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2.

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