Tuesday October 27, 2020
Social distancing does not only work with humans: In an experiment, researchers from Germany and the USA have shown that vampire bats also reduce contact with sick conspecifics. This means that pathogens cannot spread so quickly among the animals.
Keep your distance to avoid infections – what is recommended in the corona pandemic, vampire bats also practice. Researchers at the Natural History Museum in Berlin and US colleagues found in a study that vampire bats with symptoms of the disease spend significantly less time near conspecifics than usual.
“Because sick animals have less contact with healthy conspecifics, a pathogen can spread more slowly,” said the biologist and first author of the study, Simon Ripperger from the Natural History Museum. The scientists have published their results in the journal “Behavioral Ecology”.
“We suspect that keeping their distance is a natural reaction, because the sick bats were lethargic and slept more,” said Ripperger. Usually vampire bats are highly social animals. “They groom each other and share food,” said the researcher. In the case of illness, such interactions can be observed much less frequently. The behavior had previously been observed in bats in captivity, said Ripperger.
“This technology is very valuable for research”
The scientists have now also proven it in a field experiment in Belize. They caught 31 females from a group and administered a substance to half of the animals that simulated a bacterial infection for six to twelve hours. The animals were equipped with novel proximity sensors and released into the wild. “The sensors record exactly to the second who is close to whom. In addition, it is possible to measure how close the animals are,” explained the biologist.
“These self-made high-tech sensors open up completely new perspectives for us on the highly dynamic social behavior of these bats. It was previously unthinkable to carry out such experiments in the wild and simultaneously observe changes in the social network of an entire colony every second,” said the scientist.
The study with 31 animals does not allow any general statements about the mechanism of spread of pathogens in vampire bats, said Ripperger. The important thing is that the technology can collect more valuable data than just observing – which is difficult in the wild anyway. The method can also be used to simulate the spread of pathogens in other organisms.
“This technology is very valuable for research,” said Ripperger. In the future, the data sets obtained could help to gain new insights into the patterns and processes that underlie the spread of pathogens.