Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
Comparative Study
, 280 (1756), 20122753

A Comparison of Bats and Rodents as Reservoirs of Zoonotic Viruses: Are Bats Special?

Comparative Study

A Comparison of Bats and Rodents as Reservoirs of Zoonotic Viruses: Are Bats Special?

Angela D Luis et al. Proc Biol Sci.


Bats are the natural reservoirs of a number of high-impact viral zoonoses. We present a quantitative analysis to address the hypothesis that bats are unique in their propensity to host zoonotic viruses based on a comparison with rodents, another important host order. We found that bats indeed host more zoonotic viruses per species than rodents, and we identified life-history and ecological factors that promote zoonotic viral richness. More zoonotic viruses are hosted by species whose distributions overlap with a greater number of other species in the same taxonomic order (sympatry). Specifically in bats, there was evidence for increased zoonotic viral richness in species with smaller litters (one young), greater longevity and more litters per year. Furthermore, our results point to a new hypothesis to explain in part why bats host more zoonotic viruses per species: the stronger effect of sympatry in bats and more viruses shared between bat species suggests that interspecific transmission is more prevalent among bats than among rodents. Although bats host more zoonotic viruses per species, the total number of zoonotic viruses identified in bats (61) was lower than in rodents (68), a result of there being approximately twice the number of rodent species as bat species. Therefore, rodents should still be a serious concern as reservoirs of emerging viruses. These findings shed light on disease emergence and perpetuation mechanisms and may help lead to a predictive framework for identifying future emerging infectious virus reservoirs.


Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Ranking of variables from the GLS models (with phylogenetic correction) by ΔAICc: the change in AICc values when each variable is individually added (+) or removed (−) from the best model for (a) rodents (best model: number of zoonotic viruses formula image status), (b) bats (best model: number of zoonotic viruses formula image), and (c) combined rodent and bat data (best model: number of zoonotic viruses formula image; where the colon represents the interaction). (Online version in colour.)

Similar articles

  • Viral Networks and Detection of Potential Zoonotic Viruses in Bats and Rodents: A Worldwide Analysis
    F Nieto-Rabiela et al. Zoonoses Public Health 66 (6), 655-666. PMID 31219223.
    Bats and rodents are recognized to host a great diversity of viruses and several important viral zoonoses, but how this viral diversity is structured and how viruses are …
  • [Bats and Viruses: Complex Relationships]
    F Rodhain. Bull Soc Pathol Exot 108 (4), 272-89. PMID 26330152. - Review
    With more than 1 200 species, bats and flying foxes (Order Chiroptera) constitute the most important and diverse order of Mammals after Rodents. Many species of bats are …
  • Public Health Awareness of Emerging Zoonotic Viruses of Bats: A European Perspective
    WH van der Poel et al. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis 6 (4), 315-24. PMID 17187565. - Review
    Bats classified in the order Chiroptera are the most abundant and widely distributed non-human mammalian species in the world. Several bat species are reservoir hosts of …
  • Bats as Viral Reservoirs
    DT Hayman. Annu Rev Virol 3 (1), 77-99. PMID 27578437. - Review
    Bats are hosts of a range of viruses, including ebolaviruses, and many important human viral infections, such as measles and mumps, may have their ancestry traced back to …
  • Targeting Surveillance for Zoonotic Virus Discovery
    J Levinson et al. Emerg Infect Dis 19 (5), 743-7. PMID 23647732.
    We analyzed a database of mammal-virus associations to ask whether surveillance targeting diseased animals is the best strategy to identify potentially zoonotic pathogens …
See all similar articles

Cited by 166 PubMed Central articles

See all "Cited by" articles

Publication types