Climate change may have driven the Covid-19 pandemic, revealed the findings of a study published in the Journal Science of the Total Environment. The study claims that several species of virus-carrying bats have moved into Southern China due to climate change altering their habitats which might have triggered the pandemic.
Large-scale changes have occurred over the past century in the vegetation in the southern Chinese Yunnan province, and adjacent regions in Myanmar and Laos. The climate change caused by the emission of greenhouse gases and the resulting warm temperatures, more atmospheric carbon dioxide and more sunlight changed the natural habitats and enabled a suitable environment for the bat species living in forests.
The researchers said that the number of coronaviruses in a region is closely linked and directly proportional to the number of different bat species living in the same region. They found that an additional 40 bat species have moved into China's southern Yunnan province in the past century, carrying with them as many as 100 types of bat-borne coronaviruses. This 'global hotspot' is the region from where the Covid-19 virus is known to have emerged.
'As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve," said Dr Robert Beyer, the first author of the study and a researcher in the University of Cambridge.
Pangolins or anteaters, rich in number in the same hotspot, are believed to have acted as the intermediate hosts between bats and humans in passing the virus. The virus that passed from bats to pangolins reached humans through pangolin meat is one possibility that the study points at.
"Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak," added Dr Beyer.
Professor Camilo Mora at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, who initiated the project, said that the world must see the study results as an urgent call to reduce global emissions as it can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans. The researchers have emphasized the need to limit the expansion of urban areas, farmland, and hunting grounds into natural habitats to reduce contact between humans and disease-carrying animals to prevent similar pandemics in the future.