Tracking bats and coronaviruses through NABat: Human dimensions of viral transfer
August 2021 - December 2023
- U.S. Geological Survey
Background and Rationale
U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) aims to initiate a new Research Work Order with the Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (MN Unit). The MN Unit will support a national-scale effort to track bats and coronaviruses through the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat). The NABat program was established in 2015 to provide reliable information on where North American bats occur and how their populations respond to current and future threats. Now in 2021, the NABat human infrastructure has grown to include a network of more than 160 partnering organizations including Federal, State, Tribal, and non-governmental organizations, community scientists and private industry collecting and submitting data across 49 US States and 8 Canadian provinces. NABat Monitoring Hubs help coordinate regional data collection efforts, provide technical assistance, and actionable science to local partners.
This work will provide an intense wildlife coronavirus surveillance effort conducted in partnership with Federal, State, Tribal, and non-governmental organization partners. Data obtained from coronavirus surveillance in bats and the environment will be used to model SARS-CoV-2 occurrence patterns and understand the role of wildlife and the environment in human COVID-19 infection dynamics. Data will also be collected on the human dimensions of the issue and how human perception and behavior influences risk. This will inform risk assessments on viral transfer between human and wildlife populations and would inform actions to help prevent or minimize recurrence of outbreaks in the future.
Bats are the evolutionary reservoir of diverse beta and alpha coronaviruses, including SARS-like coronaviruses. Betacoronaviruses closely related to SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 have been isolated in Rhinolophid bats in China, but relatively little is known about the diversity of coronaviruses in North American bat species. The scientific consensus remains that bats are the most likely reservoir host of SARS-Cov-2 and that human and bat contact is the most likely scenario for a spillover event that led to the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding viral diversity, including and especially coronaviruses, in bats has profound implications for ensuring wildlife and human health and preparing for future zoonotic disease spilllover events. Furthermore, bats are known reservoirs of rabies virus and globally are known to be the reservoir hosts of other viruses that are highly pathogenic in humans, including Nipah virus and Hendra virus. Collection of guano from winter and summer colonies and swabbing of live bats would allow assessing viral diversity and loads, furthering our understanding of coronavirus and other potentially pathogenic viruses in North American bats. To compliment these data,
To date, empirical evidence is lacking on the prevalence of coronaviruses in naturally occurring populations of North American bats. This work will leverage and bolster the existing NABat collaborative monitoring network so that we can better track and predict occurrence of coronaviruses in North American bats. This information will help us to distinguish between perceived versus actual risk of viral transfer between human populations and wildlife. This work will also identify human behaviors that increase risk and interventions that may mitigate risk.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Center for Disease Control (CDC), and State wildlife and public health officials are concerned that there may be transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from infected humans to native US wildlife populations, which could then serve as reservoirs to infect other wildlife and to reinfect humans in the future. This study will help CDC, FWS, and other agencies understand the risks of transmission between humans and bats, and to enhance wildlife management strategies that protect humans and wildlife from any risks that are found.
Actionable information will be provided from an intense wildlife coronavirus surveillance effort conducted with Federal, State, Tribal, and non-governmental organization partners. Data obtained from coronavirus surveillance in wildlife and the environment will be used to model SARS-CoV-2 spread and understand the role of wildlife and the environment in human COVID-19 infection dynamics. This will inform risk assessments on viral transfer between to human and wildlife populations and would inform actions to help prevent or minimize recurrence of outbreaks in the future.
The social science research proposed at the Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (MN Coop Unit) for this RWO will complement the coronavirus surveillance and modeling efforts described above. Human risks perceptions and behaviors will be documented that help to clarify relationships between human choices and behaviors that influence the potential spillover transmission of coronavirus.
Social Science Tasks and Associated Methodologies:
To support the above objectives the MN Coop Unit will collect and analyze data on human perception and behavior relevant to the issue. Specific tasks include:
The MN Coop Unit will participate in regular coordination calls and written communications with other project partners to optimize the overall study design for this cross-disciplinary research and support timely delivery of results.
The MN Coop Unit will design and execute current best practices survey methods to help answer the following questions:
1) How do human perceptions of bats influence how they interact with bats?
2) How do human risk perceptions of disease influence how they interact with bats?
3) Where is there real versus perceived risk?
4) How are human behaviors informed by perceptions of bats?
5) What human behaviors increase risk?
6) What populations are most at risk as a result of risky behaviors?7) What interventions can mitigate risk/risky behavior?
The MN Coop Unit will analyze results and draft a summary report, and peer-reviewed manuscript on the findings.