Ecological and evolutionary drivers of hemoplasma infection and bacterial genotype sharing in a Neotropical bat community


Daniel J. Becker, Kelly A. Speer, Alexis M. Brown, M. Brock Fenton, Alex D. Washburne, Sonia Altizer, Daniel G. Streicker, Raina K. Plowright, Vladimir E. Chizhikov, Nancy B. Simmons, Dmitriy V. Volokhov


Molecular Ecology


Most emerging pathogens can infect multiple species, underscoring the importance of understanding the ecological and evolutionary factors that allow some hosts to harbor greater infection prevalence and share pathogens with other species. However, our understanding of pathogen jumps is primarily based around viruses, despite bacteria accounting for the greatest proportion of zoonoses. Because bacterial pathogens in bats (Order: Chiroptera) can have conservation and human health consequences, studies that examine the ecological and evolutionary drivers of bacterial prevalence and barriers to pathogen sharing are crucially needed. We here studied hemotropic Mycoplasma spp. (i.e., hemoplasmas) across a species?rich bat community in Belize over two years. Across 469 bats spanning 33 species, half of individuals and two?thirds of species were hemoplasma positive. Infection prevalence was higher for males and for species with larger body mass and colony sizes. Hemoplasmas displayed high genetic diversity (21 novel genotypes) and strong host specificity. Evolutionary patterns supported co?divergence of bats and bacterial genotypes alongside phylogenetically constrained host shifts. Bat species centrality to the network of shared hemoplasma genotypes was phylogenetically clustered and unrelated to prevalence, further suggesting rare—but detectable—bacterial sharing between species. Our study highlights the importance of using fine phylogenetic scales when assessing host specificity and suggests phylogenetic similarity may play a key role in host shifts for not only viruses but also bacteria. Such work more broadly contributes to increasing efforts to understand cross?species transmission and epidemiological consequences of bacterial pathogens.



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