Bat-Borne Diseases Become More Frequent Due to Deforestation

Courtesy of Matt Francey (Flickr CC0)

Bat-borne diseases, including rabies and Nipah virus encephalitis — which has led to human deaths in Malaysia — are on the rise, largely due to deforestation. This is because deforestation has a negative impact on biodiversity: it reduces species diversity and makes ecosystems unstable. Deforestation leads to higher temperatures in the soil and water, which can affect bats’ immune systems and make them more susceptible to certain diseases like rabies or Hendra virus infection.

Bats are an important part of a balanced ecosystem; they pollinate flowers and disperse seeds as they fly from one tree or shrub to another. They also help control pest populations by eating insects such as mosquitoes that carry dangerous viruses like Zika or Dengue fever when feeding on humans or other animals. However, habitat destruction could be changing this relationship between bats and other animals by disrupting their ability to reproduce successfully over time due to a lack of adequate food sources such as nectar plants needed during gestation periods (like sugarcane plantations replacing forests).

Bat-Borne Diseases

For example, while bats are hosts for many viruses such as Ebola among others, they’re unlikely candidates for making people sick. This is because they don’t live long enough inside our bodies before dying off without spreading these viruses further around us through bodily fluids like blood droplets, etc. People need not worry about them too much unless they come into direct contact with one while sleeping at night under the mosquito netting. Then it might only happen if any remains stuck there from its previous meal earlier that same day.

A number of bat-borne diseases, including Nipah virus encephalitis, are on the rise, largely due to deforestation. In September 1994, a mysterious virus outbreak infected and killed over a dozen horses and an equine trainer. A stablehand was also infected, however, they survived.

Researchers traced the virus to fruit bats known as flying foxes. Through their saliva and feces, they shed a bat-borne pathogen named Hendra virus – after the Australian town the virus was first found.

What Is Deforestation?

Deforestation is the large-scale destruction of forests that can have devastating effects on surrounding areas. It leads to loss of biodiversity and more disease by creating a habitat for pathogens, like the Zika virus or Ebola, to thrive in as they spread through bats and other animals that live in forests.

Biodiversity loss negatively impacts the health of humans and wildlife. The deforestation of tropical rainforests has been linked to increases in mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. This is because these areas often have dense concentrations of mosquitoes that are able to breed faster due to their lack of natural and unnatural predators.

Deforestation can lead to an increased number of bat-borne diseases by disrupting local ecosystems:

  • Reduces the number of species in an ecosystem.
  • It causes changes in rainfall patterns and weather systems.
  • It reduces soil nutrients needed for plant growth.

It leads to higher temperatures in the soil and water. Deforestation increases the evaporation of water, which raises temperatures further. As a result, soil and air are warmer than they would otherwise be. This can have devastating effects on plants that rely on low temperatures for their growth cycles or survival — such as coffee-growing areas or permafrost regions in Siberia.

What Happens Then?

Additionally, deforestation increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas it allows light from the sun to enter but hinders heat from escaping. It also increases carbon dioxide levels meaning more heat will stay trapped on Earth’s surface instead of being released into space as radiation or reflected back by clouds. This means that global warming will continue at an accelerated pace due to deforestation than if people didn’t cut down any trees at all.

Courtesy of Hazel Watson (Flickr CC0)

Deforestation also contributes indirectly to climate change by increasing extreme weather events such as floods and droughts because forests act like sponges when it rains. They absorb large amounts of water during precipitation events.

Then they slowly release them over time through evapotranspiration processes such as transpiration (plant breathing) or desiccation (human breathing). If there are no trees left standing around to absorb this excess liquid right away during high rainfall periods then flooding becomes more likely than normal.

Where Bats Come into Play

Bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers in tropical forests. They can pollinate flowers while they are flying. Bats also eat pollen from plants as they fly through the forest. As bats consume the pollen, some of it sticks to their fur. When bats land on flowers, they transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping plants to reproduce. This process helps many plants produce fruit or seeds that grow into new trees and plants for future generations of animals (including humans) to live on.

Some species of bat can disperse seeds without consuming them first by carrying them in their mouths. Sometimes this is done over long distances while flying at night above forest canopy gaps created by deforestation. These gaps are also places where one might see fireflies glowing during nighttime rainforest excursions.

Bats are an important part of a balanced ecosystem. As such, they help ensure the survival of many plants whose survival depends on bat pollination or seed dispersal to reproduce.

Other Important Roles

They are an important part of a balanced ecosystem because they keep insects under control while providing food for other animals. If we destroy their habitats through deforestation, we could risk losing some species forever. We’d increase the chances of spreading diseases like malaria or Zika fever through increased mosquito populations.

They live in caves or abandoned buildings; they’re not social animals like birds or squirrels that nest together in large colonies. This means that it’s possible for humans to come into contact with bats without realizing it. This could increase your risk of contracting bat-borne diseases like rabies.

As deforestation continues to increase, it’s important that we work to slow down or stop the destruction of tropical forests. This will help preserve the biodiversity of plants and animals found in these areas, which includes bats. We should also be aware of the potential impacts on human health from bat-borne diseases like rabies and Nipah virus encephalitis.

Recent Data

A study based on 25 years of collected data from Australia was published in Nature on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. It suggests that bat-borne spillovers into society are from a radically altering ecosystem. Climate-linked food shortage, paired with deforestation has driven bats into human-dominated habitats.

Last month, many of the same scientists published a similar study about bat-borne diseases. In that study, they found that the bats shed higher levels of the bat-borne disease Hendra virus.

“We’re transforming the planet in this way where we’re driving animals to be really at the brink — at the edge of their capacity to cope,” said Raina Plowright, senior author of both studies, and an infectious disease ecologist at Cornell University. “And this is creating stresses that are also more likely to drive pathogens into human populations.”


The New York Times: Deforestation Brings Bat-Borne Virus Home to Roost
Nature: Bat-borne virus diversity, spillover and emergence
Pub Med: Bat-borne virus diversity, spillover and emergence

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Matt Francey‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Hazel Watson‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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