In the coronavirus pandemic, human-caused climate change “may have played a key role”. That’s the conclusion of a new study that explored how climate changes have changed Southeast Asian forests, resulting in the region’s emergence of bat species.

The researchers found that an additional 40 species of bat have migrated into the city because of changes in vegetation over the past 100 years, bringing with them 100 more forms of bat-borne coronaviruses. Bats are known carriers of coronaviruses, with thousands of different forms being borne by different species. Many scientists believe the virus that started the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic originated in bats in southern China’s Yunnan province or neighboring areas before it crossed paths with humans.

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If bats carrying about 100 coronaviruses migrated due to climate change into a new region, then it would seem possible that this increases, rather than decreases, the probability of a human-harmful coronavirus being present, transmitted, or evolving in this area.

China Hunt For Virus Origins
Wanling cave in southern China’s Yunnan province on Dec. 2, 2020. Contact between bats and people alarms scientists as a potential source of disease outbreaks.

Southeast Asia has more bats population than any other location on Earth

To build a map of the vegetation of the earth as it was a century ago, the researchers used climate data. They calculated the global distribution of each species in the early 1900s using knowledge of the type of vegetation needed by different bat species. They also compared this to existing colonies of bats. Their findings suggest that the variety of bat species has flourished in this region of Southeast Asia more than any other location on Earth. The number of different bat species found in a given region.

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Forests of southern China, Myanmar, and Laos have changed over the past century, enhancing the habitat favored by bats and allowing more species to proliferate. This distinct bullseye over the region shows an increase in bat species richness.

Temperature rise, sunshine, and carbon dioxide are the climate change factors that influence plant and tree growth, have transformed the vegetation structure in southern China, turning tropical shrubland into tropical savannah and deciduous forests.
This form of habitat is more ideal for bat species to get settled. Southeast Asia “a global hotspot” for bat species and points to genetic data suggesting that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, originated in this region.

Climate change has caused a substantial rise in the number of bat species in the region where SARS-CoV-2 is likely to have originated during the past century. This increase implies a potential explanation for how climate change may have played a role in the origin of the pandemic.

World Health Organization reach Wuhan for Investigation

Finally, in January, a team of researchers from the World Health Organization was allowed to reach Wuhan, China, to investigate the cause of the epidemic, which was first recorded a little over a year ago in that area. A leading hypothesis among scientists is that before making the leap to humans, possibly by an animal host like pangolins, the virus originated in bats. Any of the first incidents are connected to a demand for wildlife in Wuhan. But this is just a hypothesis as of now, as scholars are only starting to examine the causes of the pandemic in a systematic manner.

Moving animal communities around a region can have strong impacts on disease transmission by exposing animal hosts to new pathogens

Due to human-caused climate change, many ecosystems have warmed — sometimes by several degrees — and precipitation patterns have shifted, with some areas getting less and others getting more. These ecosystem changes are shifting the habitat of many species, putting more species in contact with one another, potentially allowing viruses to spread more easily. But direct human actions like deforestation, development, or industrial-scale animal agriculture, are even bigger concerns.  Increases in human numbers, human mobility, and destruction of natural habitats by agricultural expansion may turn out to play a more important role in understanding the SARS-CoV-2 spillover process.

In some cases, higher temperatures can increase the viral load in species, which can make it more likely that the virus is transmitted. Increased temperature can increase the tolerance of viruses to heat, which in turn can increase infection rates since one of our primary defense systems to infectious diseases is to raise our body temperature.

 

While the scientific community remains quite uncertain about the specific effects of climate change on the present coronavirus pandemic, it is generally accepted that climate change will be a rising cause of evolving infectious diseases and pandemics in the future. Climate change will alter pathogen-carrying species’ geographical ranges in such a way that they intersect with species that
they did not overlap with before, “These new encounters will create harmful conditions for spreading and developing viruses.

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