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Bat OneHealth:

An integrated understanding of
bat-borne viral spillover

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There is significant global interest in understanding the dynamics of viruses within bat populations, and circumstances under which these viruses are able to transmit, or ‘spillover’ to humans.

For a pathogen to spillover from one species to another, a number of barriers must be crossed. Many of thes barriers are dynamic in space and time, and without data and insights at the key layers,  spillover can appears stochastic and unpredictable.

But when you understand the key mechanisms across scales, spillover becomes predictable. 

Our team of over 70 Bat OneHealth scientists have combined expertise in ecology, physiology, epidemiology, virology, immunology, behavioural ecology, veterinary medicine, political science, anthropology, and mathematical modelling

We are focused on generating the key pieces of data and models needed to understand each layer. And then to bring this together in a quantitative framework to predict and prevent spillover.

Linking virology, immunology, physiology with ecology,  epidemiology, and environmental science
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Our Bat OneHealth work extends across Australia, Bangladesh, Madagascar and Ghana


Bat OneHealth Australia

Our focal system is in Australia is Hendra virus in Australian flying foxes, which emerged from these to cause fatal infections in horses and humans in Australia in the 1990s. Spillovers have occurred annually since 2006, and incur significant health, social and economic costs.

We are investigating the influence of broad habitat changes on spillover events. Ongoing loss of small patches of winter-flowering habitat that are needed to sustain bat migration has led to increased numbers of bats moving into towns and cities in eastern Australia. We believe chronic and acute food shortages are affecting bat health and feeding habits, ultimately leading to increased spillover risk to horses. Our international collaboration of researchers (see here) hopes to dig into these hypotheses in more depth, and ultimately aim to commence a long-term habitat restoration project to reverse some of these trends.

Since 2016, our team has been studying flying fox populations in northeast New South Wales and South-east Queensland, addressing the dynamics of bat movement and health, bat virus transmission, and human responses to bats and spill over.


Over our 3 ½ year program, we have collected over 60,000 samples across 26 sites, from 203 under-roost sampling sessions and 41 capture events. We conducted spillover-response sampling and/or interviews for 7 Hendra virus spillover events. 


Other aims within our bat work include:

  • Investigate the prevalence of multiple bat paramyxoviruses, whether specific host-viral relationships exist, and if synchronous shedding pulses of multiple viruses occur - ultimately reconsidering Hendra virus as part of a multi-host-multi-virus community (see more here).


Our work is funded by

A US National Science Foundation's Dynamics of

Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) grant,

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects

Agency (DARPA), and Alison Peel's Australian

Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher

Award (DECRA).





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Our major collaborators are Associate Professor Raina Plowright, Dr Peggy Eby Dr Vincent Munster and a wide range of international researchers (see here). Within Australia we collaborate with Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales Local Land Services.

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Useful references


  • Eby, P., Plowright, RK., McCallum, H. & Peel, A. Conditions predict heightened Hendra virus spillover risk in horses this winter: actions now can change outcomes. Aust Vet J 98, 270–271 (2020). (link)

  • Williamson, K. M. et al. Hendra in the Hunter Valley. One Health 10, 100162 (2020). (link)

  • Peel, A. J. et al. Synchronous shedding of multiple bat paramyxoviruses coincides with peak periods of Hendra virus spillover. Emerg Microbes Infec 8, 1314–1323 (2019). (link)

  • Edson, D. et al. Time of year, age class and body condition predict Hendra virus infection in Australian black flying foxes (Pteropus alecto). Epidemiol Infect 147, e240 (2019). (link)

  • Peel, A. J. et al. Hendra virus spillover risk in horses: heightened vigilance and precautions being urged this winter. Australian Veterinary Journal 95, N20 N21 (2017). 

  • Kessler, M. K., Becker, D. J., Peel, A. J., Justice, N. V., Lunn, T., Crowley, D. E., Jones, D.N., Eby, P., Sánchez, C.A., Plowright, R.K. (2018) Changing resource landscapes and spillover of henipaviruses. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 112, 91. (link)

  • Giles, J. R., Peel, A. J., Wells, K., Plowright, R. K., McCallum, H., & Restif, O. (2018, August 28) Optimizing non-invasive sampling of an infectious bat virus. bioRxiv. (link)

  • Peel, A. J., Baker, K. S., Hayman, D. T. S., Broder, C. C., Cunningham, A. A., Fooks, A. R., Garnier, R., Wood, J. L. N., and Restif, O.  (2018) Support for viral persistence in bats from age-specific serology and models of maternal immunity. Scientific Reports, 8(1), e0004796. (link)

  • Giles, J.R., Eby, P., Parry, H., Peel, A.J., Plowright, R.K., Westcott, D.A. & McCallum, H. (2018) Environmental drivers of spatiotemporal foraging intensity in fruit bats and implications for Hendra virus ecology. Scientific Reports, 8: 9555. (link)

  • Plowright, R. K., Parrish C, McCallum H, J. Hudson P, I. Ko A, L. Graham A, O. Lloyd-Smith J. (2017) Pathways to zoonotic spillover. Nature Reviews Microbiology 15:502-510. (link)

  • Paez, D.J., Giles, J., McCallum, H., Field, H.E., Jordan, D., Peel, A.J. & Plowright, R.K. (2017) Conditions affecting the timing and magnitude of Hendra virus shedding across pteropodid bat populations in Australia. Epidemiology and Infection, 57, 1–11. (link)

  • Giles, J. R., R. K. Plowright, P. Eby, A. J. Peel, and H. McCallum. (2016) Models of Eucalypt phenology predict bat population flux. Ecology and evolution. doi:10.1002/ece3.2382 (link)

  • Plowright, R. K., A. J. Peel, D. G. Streicker, A. Gilbert, H. McCallum, J. L. N. Wood, M. L. Baker, and O. Restif. (2016) Transmission or within-host dynamics driving pulses of zoonotic viruses in reservoir-host populations. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 10: e0004796. (link)

  • Plowright, R. K., P. Eby, P. J. Hudson, I. L. Smith, D. Westcott, W. L. Bryden, D. Middleton, P. A. Reid, R. A. McFarlane, G. Martin, G. M. Tabor, L. F. Skerratt, D. L. Anderson, G. Crameri, D. Quammen, D. Jordan, P. Freeman, L. Wang, J. H. Epstein, G. A. Marsh, N. Y. Kung, and H. McCallum (2015) Ecological dynamics of emerging bat virus spillover. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 282: 20142124. (link)

  • Martin, G., Plowright, R. K., C. Chen, D. Kault, P. Selleck, and L. Skerratt (2015) Hendra virus survival does not explain spillover patterns and implicates relatively direct transmission routes from flying foxes to horses. Journal of General Virology. doi:10.1099/vir.0.000073 (link)

  • Plowright, R. K., Foley, P., Field, H. E., Dobson, A. P., Foley, J. E., Eby, P., & Daszak, P. (2011) Urban habituation, ecological connectivity and epidemic dampening: the emergence of Hendra virus from flying foxes (Pteropus spp.). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 278(1725), 3703-3712. (link)

  • Plowright, R. K., Field, H. E., Smith, C., Divljan, A., Palmer, C., Tabor, G., Daszak, P. & Foley, J. E. (2008) Reproduction and nutritional stress are risk factors for Hendra virus infection in little red flying foxes (Pteropus scapulatus). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1636), 861-869. (link)

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