‘The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wakeup call to reduce global emissions.’
Evidence of the mechanism by which climate change could have played a direct role in the emergence of SARs-CoV-2 has been published by an international research team.
Their study, in the journal Science of the Total Environment, indicates that large scale changes in the type of vegetation, along with climatic changes in the southern Chinese Yunnan province, and adjacent regions in Myanmar and Laos over the last century, has created a suitable environment for many bat species that predominantly live in forests.
The number of corona viruses in an area is closely linked to the number of different bat species present. The study found that an additional 40 bat species have moved into the southern Chinese Yunnan province in the past century, harbouring around 100 more types of bat-borne coronavirus. This global ‘hot-spot’ is the region where genetic data suggests SARs-CoV-2 may have arisen.
Dr Robert Beyer, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the study said; ‘Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province suitable for more bat species. Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the covid-19 outbreak,’
The world’s bat population carries around 3000 different types of coronavirus. Most of these viruses cannot jump to humans. However, the region identified by the study as being a hot-spot for climate driven increase in bat species, is also home to pangolins. It is these that are thought to have acted as the intermediate hosts to SARS-CoV-2. The virus is likely to have jumped from bats to pangolins, which were then sold at a wildlife market in Wuhan, where the initial outbreak occurred.
Professor Camilo Mora, from the University of Hawi’i at Mānoa, Hawaii, US, who initiated the project, said; ‘The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wakeup call to reduce global emissions.’