August 11, 2022

Climate change will drive species that have never interacted before into the same habitats

A new study has warned that climate change could cause thousands of viruses to spread between mammals, including between humans and animals, by 2070.

The peer-reviewed study, which was published on Thursday in the journal Nature, warns that global warming will push animals away from hotter climates in search of cooler temperatures. This will lead to some species coming into contact with each other for the first time.

The covid-19 pandemic was likely caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus being passed over from bats to humans, although it is still not clear exactly how this happened.

Using computer modelling for the study, scientists predicted where species would be most likely to overlap for the first time. This identified southeast Asia as a potential hotspot for species overlap.

Whilst not every one of the potential 4,000 viruses passed between species will be as disastrous as covid-19 was, the risk of another pandemic will be increased if more viruses pass between species.

And there are a number of other potential catastrophic consequences if species are exposed to viruses that they have never encountered before.

One of the study’s co-authors, Greg Albery, told CNBC: “Each one [of the viruses] has the potential to influence animal health and maybe then spill over into human populations.

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“Either way, it is likely to be very bad news for the health of the affected ecosystems.”

As the only mammals capable of true flight, it is expected that bats will be particularly likely to spread viruses between species.

Scientists estimate they will account for almost 90 percent of the first encounters between novel species.

But the authors of the study were keen to stress that bats should not be vilified because of this.

“Bats are disproportionately responsible, but we’re trying to accentuate that this isn’t the thing to blame them for — and that punishing them (culling, trying to prevent migrations) is likely to only make matters worse by driving greater dispersal, greater transmission, and weaker health,” Albery said.

The report said it could cost $1bn to properly identify and take measures against all the viruses, but that research will be crucial in preventing future pandemics.

The world is expected to warm by an average of 2 degrees Celsius by 2070. The scientific community agrees that warming needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences.

At COP26 last year, countries committed to keeping warming below the magic 1.5 figure, but current models suggest this target will be missed.

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