Bat coronavirus phylogeography in the Western Indian Ocean


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April 2020


Bats provide key ecosystem services such as crop pest regulation, pollination, seed dispersal, and soil fertilization. Bats are also major hosts for biological agents responsible for zoonoses, such as coronaviruses (CoVs). The islands of the Western Indian Ocean are identified as a major biodiversity hotspot, with more than 50 bat species. In this study, we tested 1,013 bats belonging to 36 species from Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion Island and Seychelles, based on molecular screening and partial sequencing of the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase gene. In total, 88 bats (8.7%) tested positive for coronaviruses, with higher prevalence in Mozambican bats (20.5% ± 4.9%) as compared to those sampled on islands (4.5% ± 1.5%). Phylogenetic analyses revealed a large diversity of α- and β-CoVs and a strong signal of co-evolution between CoVs and their bat host species, with limited evidence for host-switching, except for bat species sharing day roost sites. These results highlight that strong variation between islands does exist and is associated with the composition of the bat species community on each island. Future studies should investigate whether CoVs detected in these bats have a potential for spillover in other hosts.


Bats, Coronavirus, Phylogeography, Western Indian Ocean

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