Analysis of astrovirus transmission pathways in a free-ranging fission-fusion colony of Natterer’s bats (Myotis nattereri)
Bats are a diverse and widespread order of mammals. They fulfill critical ecosystem roles but may also act as reservoirs and spreaders for zoonotic agents. Consequently, many recent studies have focused on the potential of bats to spread diseases to other animals and to humans. However, virus transmission networks within bat colonies remain largely unexplored. We studied the detection rate and transmission pathway of astroviruses in a free-ranging Natterer’s bat colony (Myotis nattereri) that exhibits a high fission-fusion dynamic. Based on automatic roost monitoring data of radio-frequency identification tagged bats, we assessed the impact of the strength of an individual’s roosting associations with all other colony members (weighted degree), and the number of roost sites (bat boxes) an individual used—both being proxies for individual exposure risk—on the detected presence of astrovirus-related nucleic acid in individual swab samples. Moreover, we tested to which degree astrovirus sequence types were shared between individuals that frequently roosted together, as proxy for direct transmission risk, and between bats sharing the same roost sites in close temporal succession, as proxy for indirect transmission risk. Neither roosting associations nor the number of different roost sites had an effect on detected virus presence in individual bats. Transmission network data suggest that astroviruses are transmitted both via direct and indirect contact, implying that roost sites pose a risk of astrovirus infection for several days after the bats leave them. Our study offers novel insights in the presence and transmission of viruses within social networks of bat colonies.