Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Bat ecology in the era of pandemics

The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently appointed Emory graduate student Amanda Vicente to its Bat Specialist Group — global recognition for her expertise. (Photo by Neto Villalobos)

Bats are primarily creatures of the night. Their cape-like wings, alien faces and strange behaviors drive human fascination and fear.

“People have so many misconceptions,” says Amanda Vicente, who studies the disease ecology of bats as an Emory University doctoral candidate. “Bats are associated with dark things, like Dracula. They have never had a good reputation.”

Evidence linking viruses carried by bats to disease outbreaks, from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to SARS, Marburg, MERS, Nipah, Hendra and Ebola, is not helping their image.

“It’s important for people to know that our enemies are not the bats, but the pathogens,” Vicente says. “And in order to better fight these pathogens, we need to understand their evolutionary relationship with bats, and how that relationship is being altered by human behaviors.”

Read more about the work of Vicente, who is leading a team of Emory students to study cave bats in her native Costa Rica.

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