“The bats themselves are not affected by the Hendra virus,” Baranowski said. However, they can transmit the virus to horses, which catch the virus by grazing in areas under trees where bats now visit. Horses are the bridge, or amplifier, species between bats. and humans The virus replicates in horses at levels high enough to infect humans So far there have been around 100 documented cases of horses infected with Hendra virus, but only a handful of human cases. Unfortunately, the Hendra virus has been shown to be fatal in more than half of these cases, and although it is not fatal, it still causes permanent neurological damage. It is essential to understand how and why this happens to these early stages and learn what we can do to prevent it from getting worse.
There are many layers to understanding how a virus passes from one species to another, from animal ecology to disease ecology, microbiology and immunology. Researchers call this the “Swiss cheese model,” where various factors must line up for an overflow event to occur. The virus has to make its way through the holes in each layer to move from animal to human, and the larger team Bharti and Baranowski are working with is looking at each of these factors. Baranowski’s project focuses on the distribution of the reservoir species, bats.
“I’m looking at where these bats are and their native resources over time,” she said. “My first year and a half was spent taking classes and teaching, but also mapping and quantifying their habitat loss. I have incredibly detailed maps that allow me to track individual food species to see how their distribution of abundance has changed. I can see where important food sources still lie and use that data to model where bats are likely to roost.
Baranowski showed that satellite imagery alone is currently not sensitive enough to identify individual food source species, so it relies primarily on maps released by the Queensland Herbarium. These maps, which are based on a combination of remote sensing and field surveys, have been updated every two years since 1997 and provide detailed regional ecosystems, including the prevalence of important food species. It also uses quarterly bat population surveys conducted by the National Flying Fox Monitoring Program in Australia since 2012.
Most of the documented overflow events have occurred during the winter months, when the fruit and nectar that bats depend on are particularly scarce. Baranowski wants to understand where these limited resources are to better predict how they influence the destination of bats, with the eventual goal of determining how and where to restore these resources to keep bats away from humans.
The recent wildfires in Australia have also had a major impact on bat habitat, and Baranowski used satellite thermal anomaly data to map the location of the fires and quantify habitat loss with his maps. . But, unfortunately, even this type of research is not immune to the impact of COVID-19. The bat monitoring program had to be halted, so the team could not measure the direct impact of habitat loss from recent fires on the bat population.