Population Genetic Study of Flying-Foxes To Elucidate Relationship Between Anthropogenic Ecological Change and Infectious Disease Emergence

EPA Grant Number: FP916381
Title: Population Genetic Study of Flying-Foxes To Elucidate Relationship Between Anthropogenic Ecological Change and Infectious Disease Emergence
Investigators: Olival, Kevin J.
Institution: Columbia University in the City of New York
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2004
Project Amount: $111,172
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Terrestrial Ecology and Ecosystems , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


I propose to study the ecology and population genetics of Southeast Asian flying foxes (Genus Pteropus) to elucidate the ecological mechanisms of infectious disease emergence and facilitate the conservation of these threatened mammals. Pteropus vampyrus, the world’s largest flying mammal, has been identified as the most important natural reservoir for Nipah virus—a deadly paramyxovirus that emerged in Malaysia in 1998 killing more than 100 people. As with other novel zoonotic diseases (e.g., SARS) the mechanisms of its emergence remain unknown. Available data suggest that most emerging infectious diseases are driven by anthropogenic changes to the environment. One hypothesis for the emergence of Nipah virus is that deforestation and hunting pressure have altered migratory patterns of flying foxes bringing the disease in contact with humans. Although previous studies have suggested great mobility in Pteropus spp., virtually nothing about local or long-distance patterns of movement of P. vampyrus is known. The primary objective of my research is to elucidate the historical and contemporary patterns of migration, dispersal, and population connectivity in this species. This is vital to determine the underlying ecological drivers of disease emergence, predict the future spread of Nipah virus, and guide the conservation management of these threatened and ecologically important mammals.


I will use a landscape genetics approach to test my hypothesis. New molecular tools in combination with more powerful statistical tests, ecological data, and GIS analysis enable us to correlate fine-scale genetic patterns with landscape variables. I will sample individuals from populations of P. vampyrus across a wide geographic range in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Field collection and research is currently underway. Bats are being captured using standard netting techniques; wing-biopsies and blood are taken using minimally invasive procedures. Animals are sampled, measured, marked, and released. Blood samples are being sent to collaborators in Malaysia and Australia for serological analysis to ascertain presence or absence of Nipah virus; population genetic analysis will be conducted in the laboratory at Columbia University. I will use several nuclear (including microsatellite) and mitochondrial DNA markers to infer historical patterns of migration and population connectivity. Satellite telemetry studies will be used to corroborate molecular data and ascertain contemporary patterns of movement. Lastly, to synthesize all data and to test the hypothesis of anthropogenic change altering migratory patterns, I will build a GIS model that includes spatial data from genetic analyses, ecological surveys, disease distribution, satellite telemetry, geographic features, and current patterns of land use.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, infectious disease, novel zoonotic disease, emerging diseases, Nipah virus, Southeast Asia, bats, flying foxes, conservation, environmental change,, Health, Scientific Discipline, PHYSICAL ASPECTS, Health Risk Assessment, Risk Assessments, Environmental Microbiology, Physical Processes, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, anthropogenic stress, Nipah virus, exposure, disease potential, genetic analysis, paramyxovirus, human exposure, population genetic study, human health risk, Southeast Asian flying foxes

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final