African Bats: Conservation in the time of Ebola

Jennifer A. Guyton, Cara E Brook

Resumen


 

Introduction: Bats are among the most poorly studied mammals, despite their diversity and important ecological services. The ongoing Ebola epidemic in western Africa underscores the increasingly recognized role of bats as reservoirs for emerging human diseases. An understanding of the mechanisms supporting pathogen maintenance in bat hosts is essential to informing future public health measures, as well as conservation efforts for wild bat populations. This is crucial in Africa, where the human population is burgeoning, increasing habitat loss and human contact with wildlife.

The importance of natural history. The natural history and ecology of bats, especially in Africa, is poorly understood, making responsible management decisions difficult. Metrics for guiding management of pathogens and their host populations, such as critical community size and minimum viable population size, often require more natural history knowledge than we currently have available. We argue that management action without adequate research can lead to counterproductive results. In the past, fear-based management responses such as culling campaigns have counterintuitively increased the prevalence of pathogens in the target host population, as has been observed in the vampire bat-rabies system and the Egyptian fruit bat-Marburg system.

Bat conservation in the time of Ebola. Many of the same anthropogenic stressors that are threatening bat populations, such as habitat loss and hunting, are also likely drivers of zoonotic pathogen emergence. Given this, and given that reducing bat populations can increase rather than decrease pathogen prevalence, we argue that conservation measures for bats should be strengthened in this time of Ebola. We offer a few potential first steps.

Conclusions and Future Directions: We advocate the precautionary principle, and encourage significant and urgent increases in natural history studies, education, and conservation measures for African bats.

Key words: bat conservation, Chiroptera, culling, Ebola, natural history, zoonotic pathogens


Palabras clave


Ebola, zoonotic pathogens, Chiroptera, bat conservation, culling, natural history

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Referencias


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