New Study Reveals Global "Hot Spots" Where New Coronaviruses
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Global land-use changes including forest fragmentation, agricultural expansion and concentrated livestock production are creating "hot spots" favourable for bats that carry coronaviruses and where conditions are ripe for the diseases to jump from bats to humans, finds a new study.

The new study used remote sensing to analyze land-use patterns throughout the horseshoe bat's range, which extends from Western Europe through Southeast Asia. By identifying areas of forest fragmentation, human settlement and agricultural and livestock production, and comparing these to known horseshoe bat habitats, they identified potential hot spots where habitat is favourable for these bat species, and where these so-called zoonotic viruses could potentially jump from bats to humans.

The analysis also identified locations that could become easily become hot spots with changes in land use. "Land use changes can have an important impact on human health, both because we are modifying the environment, but also because they can increase our exposure to zoonotic disease," said study co-author Paolo D'Odorico, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley.

Most of the current hot spots are clustered in China, where a growing demand for meat products has driven the expansion of large-scale, industrial livestock farming. Concentrated livestock production is particularly concerning because the practice brings together large populations of genetically similar, often immune-suppressed animals that are highly vulnerable to disease outbreaks, the researchers said.

The analysis also found that parts of Japan, the north Philippines and China south of Shanghai are at risk of becoming hot spots with further forest fragmentation, while parts of Indochina and Thailand may transition into hot spots with increases in livestock production.

Human encroachment into natural habitat can also indirectly increase exposure to zoonotic disease by reducing valuable biodiversity. When forest lands become fragmented and natural habitats are destroyed, species that require very specific habitat to survive, called "specialists," may dwindle or even go extinct. Without competition from specialists, "generalist" species, which are less picky about their habitat, can take over.

Horseshoe bats are a generalist species and have often been observed in areas characterized by human disturbance. While China has been a leader in tree planting and other greening efforts over the past two decades, many of the trees have been planted in discontinuous land areas or forest fragments. To tilt the ecological balance back in favour of specialist species, creating continuous areas of forest cover and wildlife corridors are more important than increasing total tree cover.

Source:
https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-021-00285-x
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