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, 6 (12), e29773

Diseases and Causes of Death in European Bats: Dynamics in Disease Susceptibility and Infection Rates


Diseases and Causes of Death in European Bats: Dynamics in Disease Susceptibility and Infection Rates

Kristin Mühldorfer et al. PLoS One.


Background: Bats receive increasing attention in infectious disease studies, because of their well recognized status as reservoir species for various infectious agents. This is even more important, as bats with their capability of long distance dispersal and complex social structures are unique in the way microbes could be spread by these mammalian species. Nevertheless, infection studies in bats are predominantly limited to the identification of specific pathogens presenting a potential health threat to humans. But the impact of infectious agents on the individual host and their importance on bat mortality is largely unknown and has been neglected in most studies published to date.

Methodology/principal findings: Between 2002 and 2009, 486 deceased bats of 19 European species (family Vespertilionidae) were collected in different geographic regions in Germany. Most animals represented individual cases that have been incidentally found close to roosting sites or near human habitation in urban and urban-like environments. The bat carcasses were subjected to a post-mortem examination and investigated histo-pathologically, bacteriologically and virologically. Trauma and disease represented the most important causes of death in these bats. Comparative analysis of pathological findings and microbiological results show that microbial agents indeed have an impact on bats succumbing to infectious diseases, with fatal bacterial, viral and parasitic infections found in at least 12% of the bats investigated.

Conclusions/significance: Our data demonstrate the importance of diseases and infectious agents as cause of death in European bat species. The clear seasonal and individual variations in disease prevalence and infection rates indicate that maternity colonies are more susceptible to infectious agents, underlining the possible important role of host physiology, immunity and roosting behavior as risk factors for infection of bats.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Details on bats from Germany.
(A) Bat species distribution among the study sample (n = 486). (B) Male-to-female ratio (bat species >10 individuals). Footnotes: 1) Chi-square test, χ2 = 11.1, df = 1, p = 0.0009, 2) χ2 = 8.8, df = 1, p = 0.003, 3) χ2 = 4.0, df = 1, p = 0.05, 4) χ2 = 3.5, df = 1, p = 0.06. Abbreviations: Ppip, Pipistrellus pipistrellus; Pnath, Pipistrellus nathusii; Nnoc, Nyctalus noctula; Mmyst, Myotis mystacinus; Mdaub, Myotis daubentonii; Mnatt, Myotis nattereri; Eser, Eptesicus serotinus; Enils, Eptesicus nilssonii; Paur, Plecotus auritus; Vmur, Vespertilio murinus. (C) Age-sex distribution among the study sample (n = 486).
Figure 2
Figure 2. Age-dependent differences and seasonal variations among the general causes of mortality, disease and trauma.
(A) Age-specific prevalence. (B) Seasonal distribution of trauma- and disease-related mortality cases.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Species-specific parasite infection rates.
(A) Ecto- and (B) endoparasite prevalence in different European vespertilionid bat species. Error bars represent 95% binomial confidence intervals. Abbreviations: Nnoc, Nyctalus noctula; Mdaub, Myotis daubentonii; Vmur, Vespertilio murinus; Enils, Eptesicus nilssonii; Ppip, Pipistrellus pipistrellus; Eser, Eptesicus serotinus; Paur, Plecotus auritus; Pnath, Pipistrellus nathusii; Mnatt, Myotis nattereri; Mmyst, Myotis mystacinus.

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