Changing resource landscapes and spillover of henipaviruses

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

Corresponding author: Maureen Kessler,

Due to land use change, many pteropodids, a family of old world fruit bats, are forced to alter their foraging behavior, causing them to move to regions that are in close proximity to humans. This leads to more human-bat interactions and a greater risk of zoonotic spillover. This can lead to the spread of Henipaviruses from bats to humans and other domesticated animals. Henipaviruses, including Hendra virus and Nipah virus, can cause death and illness in both humans and animals. A team including CEID members Daniel Becker, and Cecilia Sanchez hypothesize that by decreasing pteropodids’ natural habitat it is also reducing their access to their normal diet. They highlight the ways in which access to food resources may influence spillover.  When pteropodids have to find novel food resources among agricultural developments where there is less nutritious food, they have less energy for their immune defense against henipaviruses. Therefore, there may be more viral shedding (excretion of the virus) occurring and within close range to humans, causing more infections. With decreasing habitat causing the relocation of pteropodids to urban populations, it may cause pathogen transmission to increase. Transmission of disease is most likely through indirect transmission such as through contaminated date palm sap, which humans eat. Spillover can also occur through bat dropped fruits, such as mangos and starfruits. The researchers note, that with many important questions left unanswered there is plenty of research to be done into how land use change drives spillover of henipaviruses. They call for field and experimental studies to address the different, but interconnected issues of how land use change affects the foraging and roosting behaviors of bats, and how changes in these behavior influence spillover risk.


Kessler, M.K et al. (2018). Changing resource landscapes and spillover of henipaviruses. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,