When human activities lead to changed landscapes, new ecosystem configurations may entail, subsequently increasing potential for unprecedented contact between humans and wildlife, including species carrying human pathogens.
Bats are known reservoirs of Nipah, Ebola and Hendra viruses, the latter being the focus of a study examining how human migration in Australia has affected the range of fruit bats (Pteropus spp.)–also known as flying foxes–and whether these changes are associated with Hendra virus spillover events, i.e when a virus passes from a reservoir to a novel species.
Using GBIF-mediated occurrences the authors modelled the distribution of four flying fox species in mainland Australia based on climate variables and human migration across three decades from 1980. The models showed that the niches of two species in particular have expanded southward along the eastern coast, following increases in human population, especially in the 1990s.
Finally, the authors showed how the changing geometry of flying fox habitat was strongly associated with Hendra virus spillovers, adding knowledge about epidemiology and infection ecology of this rare, but fatal zoonosis.