CNH-L: Dynamics of Zoonotic Systems: Human-Bat-Pathogen Interactions

  • Plowright, Raina (PI)
  • Shanahan, Elizabeth (CoPI)
  • Restif, Olivier (CoPI)
  • Mcguire, Liam (CoPI)
  • Bharti, Nita (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Increases in the frequency of human-wildlife interaction have led to the emergence of new zoonoses, which are infectious diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. Zoonoses are a major threat to biosecurity and public health. Bats are home to some of the highest-profile emerging zoonoses, including Ebola, Marburg, Nipah, and Hendra viruses, and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS). Transmission from bats to humans often occurs when bats abandon natural habitats to take advantage of resources associated with human settlements. This project will investigate how habitat loss causes bat migration into populated developed areas, which leads to increased bat-human encounters and increased disease transmission. The research will focus on Hendra virus, a bat borne pathogen in Australia, to study the interactions among changing landscapes, loss of natural habitats, humans, bats, and pathogens. A surge of bat movement into towns and cities in eastern Australia has led to increased negative bat-human interactions, and increased mortality of horses and humans from Hendra virus. An ultimate goal of the research is to identify and mitigate the specific interacting factors responsible for increased disease incidence and poor health outcomes. The research team includes investigators at ten academic institutions and a non-profit organization. The project will train U.S. students and postdoctoral researchers, improve science communication and policies that protect wildlife and human health, and will build greater research capacity among national and international collaborators. Methods and results will be generalizable to numerous countries in which similar zoonotic events occur, but that have limited resources for biological surveillance, disease prevention, and responding to outbreaks.

This project will address the hypotheses that the root cause of negative bat-human interactions is the loss of habitat needed to sustain bats' nomadic feeding ecology, and that some management decisions (e.g., destruction of roost sites, not vaccinating horses) may exacerbate conflict, spillover, and habitat loss. The research integrates theory and field data spanning ecology, physiology, epidemiology, political science, anthropology, veterinary medicine, behavioral ecology, and mathematical modeling. Data will be collected on land-use change and the physiology, energetics, and movement of bats; mechanistic models will be used to examine how the relations among these variables influence bats' use of urban areas. The researchers will conduct field and modeling studies on the dynamics of bat viruses to help predict future instances of virus spillover. They will additionally use narratives, collaboratively produced by researchers and local communities, to conduct experiments on risk perceptions and decisions about bat nuisance, virus spillover, and vaccination. Ultimately, the project will lead to an evidence-based program for reversing the negative human-wildlife interactions that lead to epidemics and loss of wildlife. It will also lead to a framework for public education and engagement that is endorsed by local communities and is embedded in ecological restoration initiatives.

Effective start/end date9/1/178/31/22


  • National Science Foundation: $1,650,000.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.