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Concept: Pteropus


ABSTRACT The majority of emerging zoonoses originate in wildlife, and many are caused by viruses. However, there are no rigorous estimates of total viral diversity (here termed “virodiversity”) for any wildlife species, despite the utility of this to future surveillance and control of emerging zoonoses. In this case study, we repeatedly sampled a mammalian wildlife host known to harbor emerging zoonotic pathogens (the Indian Flying Fox, Pteropus giganteus) and used PCR with degenerate viral family-level primers to discover and analyze the occurrence patterns of 55 viruses from nine viral families. We then adapted statistical techniques used to estimate biodiversity in vertebrates and plants and estimated the total viral richness of these nine families in P. giganteus to be 58 viruses. Our analyses demonstrate proof-of-concept of a strategy for estimating viral richness and provide the first statistically supported estimate of the number of undiscovered viruses in a mammalian host. We used a simple extrapolation to estimate that there are a minimum of 320,000 mammalian viruses awaiting discovery within these nine families, assuming all species harbor a similar number of viruses, with minimal turnover between host species. We estimate the cost of discovering these viruses to be ~$6.3 billion (or ~$1.4 billion for 85% of the total diversity), which if annualized over a 10-year study time frame would represent a small fraction of the cost of many pandemic zoonoses. IMPORTANCE Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in viral discovery efforts. However, most lack rigorous systematic design, which limits our ability to understand viral diversity and its ecological drivers and reduces their value to public health intervention. Here, we present a new framework for the discovery of novel viruses in wildlife and use it to make the first-ever estimate of the number of viruses that exist in a mammalian host. As pathogens continue to emerge from wildlife, this estimate allows us to put preliminary bounds around the potential size of the total zoonotic pool and facilitates a better understanding of where best to allocate resources for the subsequent discovery of global viral diversity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Statistics, Mathematics, Species, Estimation, Wildlife, Zoonosis, Pteropus


The taxonomy, biology, and population status of flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) remain little investigated in the Caroline Islands, Micronesia, where multiple endemic taxa occur. Our study evaluated the taxonomic relationships between the flying foxes of the Mortlock Islands (a subgroup of the Carolines) and two closely related taxa from elsewhere in the region, and involved the first ever field study of the Mortlock population. Through a review of historical literature, the name Pteropus pelagicus Kittlitz, 1836 is resurrected to replace the prevailing but younger name Pteropus phaeocephalus Thomas, 1882 for the flying fox of the Mortlocks. On the basis of cranial and external morphological comparisons, Pteropus pelagicus is united taxonomically with Pteropus insularis “Hombron and Jacquinot, 1842” (with authority herein emended to Jacquinot and Pucheran 1853), and the two formerly monotypic species are now treated as subspecies - Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus in the Mortlocks, and Pteropus phaeocephalus insularis on the islands of Chuuk Lagoon and Namonuito Atoll. The closest relative of Pteropus pelagicus is Pteropus tokudae Tate, 1934, of Guam, which is best regarded as a distinct species. Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus is the only known resident bat in the Mortlock Islands, a chain of more than 100 atoll islands with a total land area of <12 km(2). Based on field observations in 2004, we estimated a population size of 925-1,200 bats, most of which occurred on Satawan and Lukunor Atolls, the two largest and southernmost atolls in the chain. Bats were absent on Nama Island and possibly extirpated from Losap Atoll in the northern Mortlocks. Resident Mortlockese indicated bats were more common in the past, but that the population generally has remained stable in recent years. Most Pteropus phaeocephalus pelagicus roosted alone or in groups of 5-10 bats; a roost of 27 was the largest noted. Diet is comprised of at least eight plant species, with breadfruit (Artocarpus spp.) being a preferred food. Records of females with young (April, July) and pregnant females (July) suggest an extended breeding season. Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus appears most threatened by the prospect of sea level rise associated with global climate change, which has the potential to submerge or reduce the size of atolls in the Mortlocks. Occasional severe typhoons probably temporarily reduce populations on heavily damaged atolls, but hunting and ongoing habitat loss are not current problems for the subspecies.

Concepts: Caroline Islands, Atoll, Pteropus, Federated States of Micronesia, Chuuk, Namonuito Atoll, Yap, Pohnpei


Flying-foxes (Pteropodidae) are large bats capable of long-distance flight. Many species are threatened; some are considered pests. Effective conservation and management of flying-foxes are constrained by lack of knowledge of their ecology, especially of movement patterns over large spatial scales. Using satellite telemetry, we quantified long-distance movements of the grey-headed flying-fox Pteropus poliocephalus among roost sites in eastern Australia. Fourteen adult males were tracked for 2-40 weeks (mean 25 weeks). Collectively, these individuals utilised 77 roost sites in an area spanning 1,075 km by 128 km. Movement patterns varied greatly between individuals, with some travelling long distances. Five individuals travelled cumulative distances >1,000 km over the study period. Five individuals showed net displacements >300 km during one month, including one movement of 500 km within 48 hours. Seasonal movements were consistent with facultative latitudinal migration in part of the population. Flying-foxes shifted roost sites frequently: 64% of roost visits lasted <5 consecutive days, although some individuals remained at one roost for several months. Modal 2-day distances between consecutive roosts were 21-50 km (mean 45 km, range 3-166 km). Of 13 individuals tracked for >12 weeks, 10 moved >100 km in one or more weeks. Median cumulative displacement distances over 1, 10 and 30 weeks were 0 km, 260 km and 821 km, respectively. On average, over increasing time-periods, one additional roost site was visited for each additional 100 km travelled. These findings explain why culling and relocation attempts have had limited success in resolving human-bat conflicts in Australia. Flying-foxes are highly mobile between camps and regularly travel long distances. Consequently, local control actions are likely to have only temporary effects on local flying-fox populations. Developing alternative methods to manage these conflicts remains an important challenge that should be informed by a better understanding of the species' movement patterns.

Concepts: Arithmetic mean, Travel, Pollinators, Megabats, Megabat, Pteropus, Grey-headed Flying Fox


Seed dispersal plays a significant role in forest regeneration and maintenance. Flying foxes are often posited as effective long-distance seed dispersers due to their large home ranges and ability to disperse seeds when flying. We evaluate the importance of the Madagascan flying fox Pteropus rufus in the maintenance and regeneration of forests in one of the world’s priority conservation areas. We tested germination success of over 20,000 seeds from the figs Ficus polita, F. grevei and F. lutea extracted from bat faeces and ripe fruits under progressively more natural conditions, ranging from petri-dishes to outdoor environments. Seeds from all fig species showed increased germination success after passing through the bats' digestive tracts. Outside, germination success in F. polita was highest in faecal seeds grown under semi-shaded conditions, and seeds that passed through bats showed increased seedling establishment success. We used data from feeding trials and GPS tracking to construct seed shadow maps to visualize seed dispersal patterns. The models use Gaussian probability density functions to predict the likelihood of defecation events occurring after feeding. In captivity, bats had short gut retention times (often < 30 mins), but were sometimes able to retain seeds for over 24h. In the wild, bats travelled 3-5 km within 24-280 min after feeding, when defecation of ingested seeds is very likely. They produced extensive seed shadows (11 bats potentially dispersing seeds over 58,000 ha over 45 total days of tracking) when feeding on figs within their large foraging areas and dispersed the seeds in habitats that were often partially shaded and hence would facilitate germination up to 20 km from the feeding tree. Because figs are important pioneer species, P. rufus is an important dispersal vector that makes a vital contribution to the regeneration and maintenance of highly fragmented forest patches in Madagascar.

Concepts: Fruit, Probability density function, Seed, Plant morphology, Germination, Seedling, Pteropus, Madagascan Flying Fox


A recent focus of interest has been on the functional significance of genital licking (fellatio and cunnilingus) in relation to sexual selection in Pteropodid bats. In the present paper, a form of fellatio in wild Bonin flying foxes, Pteropus pselaphon, performed between adult males has been reported. During the mating season, adult flying foxes roost in same-sex groups, forming ball-shaped clusters which provide warmth. The female clusters may also contain a few males. Unassociated with allogrooming, same-sex genital licking occurred among males in the all male clusters. As such, male-male fellatio can be considered as homosexual behavior, two functional explanations could account for this behavior; the social bonding and the social tension regulation hypotheses suggested in a previous review. Given that neither the simpler alternative that in all male groups such fellatio may represent misdirected sexual behavior, nor the two previously proposed functional hypotheses were supported by the data, I propose another functional hypothesis. Homosexual fellatio in this species could help males solve inconsistent situations in the roost when there are conflicts between cooperative behavior for social thermoregulation and competition for mating.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Reproduction, Sexual dimorphism, Gender, Sex, Human behavior, Penis, Pteropus


Nipah virus (NiV) (Genus Henipavirus) is a recently emerged zoonotic virus that causes severe disease in humans and has been found in bats of the genus Pteropus. Whilst NiV has not been detected in Australia, evidence for NiV-infection has been found in pteropid bats in some of Australia’s closest neighbours. The aim of this study was to determine the occurrence of henipaviruses in fruit bat (Family Pteropodidae) populations to the north of Australia. In particular we tested the hypothesis that Nipah virus is restricted to west of Wallace’s Line. Fruit bats from Australia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia were tested for the presence of antibodies to Hendra virus (HeV) and Nipah virus, and tested for the presence of HeV, NiV or henipavirus RNA by PCR. Evidence was found for the presence of Nipah virus in both Pteropus vampyrus and Rousettus amplexicaudatus populations from East Timor. Serology and PCR also suggested the presence of a henipavirus that was neither HeV nor NiV in Pteropus alecto and Acerodon celebensis. The results demonstrate the presence of NiV in the fruit bat populations on the eastern side of Wallace’s Line and within 500 km of Australia. They indicate the presence of non-NiV, non-HeV henipaviruses in fruit bat populations of Sulawesi and Sumba and possibly in Papua New Guinea. It appears that NiV is present where P. vampyrus occurs, such as in the fruit bat populations of Timor, but where this bat species is absent other henipaviruses may be present, as on Sulawesi and Sumba. Evidence was obtained for the presence henipaviruses in the non-Pteropid species R. amplexicaudatus and in A. celebensis. The findings of this work fill some gaps in knowledge in geographical and species distribution of henipaviruses in Australasia which will contribute to planning of risk management and surveillance activities.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Henipavirus, Zoonosis, New Guinea, Pteropus


Monitoring flying-foxes is challenging as their extreme mobility produces highly dynamic population processes, considerable logistic difficulty, and variability in estimated population size. We report on methods for inferring population trend for the population of the spectacled flying-fox (Pteropus conspicillatus) in Australia. Monthly monitoring is conducted at all known roost sites across the species' range in the Wet Tropics Region. The proportion of animals in camps varies seasonally and stochastic environmental events appear to be influential. We develop a state-space model that incorporates these processes and enables inference on total population trends and uses early warning analysis to identify the causes of population dynamics. The model suggests that population growth rate is stable in the absence of cyclones, however, cyclones appear to impact on both survival and reproduction. The population recovered after two cyclones but declined after a third. The modelling estimates a population decline over 15 years of c. 75% (mean r = - 0.12yr-1and belief of negative trend is c. 83%) suggesting that conservation action is warranted. Our work shows that a state-space modelling approach is a significant improvement on inference from raw counts from surveys and demonstrates that this approach is a workable alternative to other methods.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, Demographic economics, World population, Population growth, Pteropus


Hendra virus causes acute and highly fatal infection in horses and humans. Pteropid bats (flying-foxes) are the natural host of the virus, with age and species being risk factors for infection. Urine is the primary route of excretion in flying-foxes, with viral RNA more frequently detected in Pteropus alecto and P. conspicillatus than other species. Infection prevalence in flying-foxes can vary between and within years, with a winter peak of excretion occurring in some regions. Vertical transmission and recrudescing infection has been reported in flying-foxes, but horizontal transmission is evidently the primary mode of transmission. The most parsimonious mode of flying-fox to horse transmission is equine contact (oro-nasal, conjunctival) with infected flying-fox urine, either directly, or via urine-contaminated pasture or surfaces. Horse to horse transmission is inefficient, requiring direct contact with infected body fluids. Flying-fox to human transmission has not been recorded; all human cases have been associated with close and direct contact with infected horses. Canine cases (subclinical) have also been limited to equine case properties. Notwithstanding the recent availability of an effective vaccine for horses, a comprehensive understanding of Hendra virus ecology and transmission is essential to limit inter-species transmission.

Concepts: Infection, Infectious diseases, Transmission and infection of H5N1, Mammal, Horse, Vertical transmission, Horizontal transmission, Pteropus


Disease risk mapping is important for predicting and mitigating impacts of bat-borne viruses, including Hendra virus (Paramyxoviridae:Henipavirus), that can spillover to domestic animals and thence to humans. We produced two models to estimate areas at potential risk of HeV spillover explained by the climatic suitability for its flying fox reservoir hosts, Pteropus alecto and P. conspicillatus. We included additional climatic variables that might affect spillover risk through other biological processes (such as bat or horse behaviour, plant phenology and bat foraging habitat). Models were fit with a Poisson point process model and a log-Gaussian Cox process. In response to climate change, risk expanded southwards due to an expansion of P. alecto suitable habitat, which increased the number of horses at risk by 175-260% (110,000-165,000). In the northern limits of the current distribution, spillover risk was highly uncertain because of model extrapolation to novel climatic conditions. The extent of areas at risk of spillover from P. conspicillatus was predicted shrink. Due to a likely expansion of P. alecto into these areas, it could replace P. conspicillatus as the main HeV reservoir. We recommend: (1) HeV monitoring in bats, (2) enhancing HeV prevention in horses in areas predicted to be at risk, (3) investigate and develop mitigation strategies for areas that could experience reservoir host replacements.

Concepts: Evolution, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Risk management, Pteropus, Poisson process, Point process


We captured, ectoparasite-combed, and blood-sampled cave-roosting Madagascan fruit bats (Eidolon dupreanum) and tree-roosting Madagascan flying foxes (Pteropus rufus) in four single-species roosts within a sympatric geographic foraging range for these species in central Madagascar. We describe infection with novel Bartonella spp. in sampled Eidolon dupreanum and associated bat flies (Cyclopodia dubia), which nest close to or within major known Bartonella lineages; simultaneously, we report the absence of Bartonella spp. in Thaumapsylla sp. fleas collected from these same bats. This represents the first documented finding of Bartonella infection in these species of bat and bat fly, as well as a new geographic record for Thaumapsylla sp. We further relate the absence of both Bartonella spp. and ectoparasites in sympatrically sampled Pteropus rufus, thus suggestive of a potential role for bat flies in Bartonella spp. transmission. These findings shed light on transmission ecology of bat-borne Bartonella spp., recently demonstrated as a potentially zoonotic pathogen.

Concepts: Pathogen, Bat, Flies, Zoonosis, Hippoboscoidea, Calyptratae, Megabats, Pteropus