Climatic suitability influences species specific abundance patterns of Australian flying foxes and risk of Hendra virus spillover
Gerardo A Martin, Carlos Yanez-Arenas, Billie J Roberts, Carla Chen, Raina K Plowright, Rebecca J Webb, Lee F Skerratt
Hendra virus is a paramyxovirus of Australian flying fox bats. It was first detected in August 1994, after the death of 20 horses and one human. Since then it has occurred regularly within a portion of the geographical distribution of all Australian flying fox (fruit bat) species. There is, however, little understanding about which species are most likely responsible for spillover, or why spillover does not occur in other areas occupied by reservoir and spillover hosts. Using ecological niche models of the four flying fox species we were able to identify which species are most likely linked to spillover events using the concept of distance to the niche centroid of each species. With this novel approach we found that 20 out of 27 events occur disproportionately closer to the niche centroid of two species (P. alecto and P. conspicillatus). With linear regressions we found a negative relationship between distance to the niche centroid and abundance of these two species. Thus, we suggest that the bioclimatic niche of these two species is likely driving the spatial pattern of spillover of Hendra virus into horses and ultimately humans.
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