Shifts in global bat diversity suggest a possible role of climate change in the emergence of SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2

8 Feb, 2021


Bats are the likely zoonotic origin of several coronaviruses (CoVs) that infect humans, including SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2, both of which have caused large-scale epidemics. The number of CoVs present in an area is strongly correlated with local bat species richness, which in turn is affected by climatic conditions that drive the geographical distributions of species. Here we show that the southern Chinese Yunnan province and neighbouring regions in Myanmar and Laos form a global hotspot of climate change-driven increase in bat richness. This region coincides with the likely spatial origin of bat-borne ancestors of SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. Accounting for an estimated increase in the order of 100 bat-borne CoVs across the region, climate change may have played a key role in the evolution or transmission of the two SARS CoVs.

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