Viral communities in vampire bats: geographical variation and ecological drivers

Bergner, Laura (2018) Viral communities in vampire bats: geographical variation and ecological drivers. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2018BergnerPhD.pdf] PDF
Download (18MB)
Printed Thesis Information:


Microbial communities play important roles in organismal and ecosystem health. High throughput sequencing has revolutionized our understanding of host-associated microbial communities, but the viral component of these communities remains poorly characterized relative to microbes such as bacteria, particularly in non-human hosts. This knowledge gap has implications for global health, as viruses originating in wildlife are responsible for recent disease outbreaks in humans and domestic animals. Although studies have identified factors differentiating viral communities between species, we have little understanding of the variability of viral communities within species. Comparative studies of viral communities are therefore necessary to characterize novel taxa and to evaluate the ecological factors influencing intraspecific viral diversity and distribution.
Bats are recognized as “special” reservoirs for viruses because they are associated with diverse viral communities and display deep evolutionary relationships with individual viral taxa. Common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) represent a particularly interesting system in which to investigate viral communities, as they are obligate blood feeders that interact ecologically with many different host species, providing opportunities for the acquisition of diverse viruses. The overall objective of this thesis was to advance our understanding of intraspecific wildlife-associated viral communities using an established field network of common vampire bat colonies across Peru. Specifically, I developed a novel method for comparative viral community studies, characterized the viral communities of vampire bats, and examined the ecological correlates of vampire bat viral diversity across Peru.
Metagenomic sequencing is a promising technique for comparative studies of viral communities in wildlife, but there is a need to first develop standardized methods that can be applied to samples collected in the field. In Chapter 2 I developed a shotgun metagenomic sequencing approach to characterizing viral communities from non-invasive samples. Specifically, I optimized extraction and sequencing protocols using fecal and oropharyngeal swabs collected from common vampire bats in Peru. Two preliminary sequencing runs were performed, the results of which motivated four pilot studies in which I tested how different storage media, nucleic acid extraction procedures, and enrichment steps affect the viral community detected. Metagenomic sequencing revealed viral contamination of fetal bovine serum, a component of viral transport medium, suggesting that swabs should be stored in RNALater or another non-biological medium. Extraction and qPCR tests were performed on swabs inoculated with known concentrations of virus, which revealed that nucleic acid should be directly extracted from swabs rather than from supernatant or pelleted material. Metagenomic sequencing of paired samples was used to test enrichment by ribosomal RNA depletion and light DNAse treatment, which both reduced host and bacterial nucleic acid in samples and improved virus detection. A bioinformatic pipeline was developed specifically for processing vampire bat shotgun viral metagenomic data. Finally, the optimized protocol was applied to twelve pooled samples from seven localities in Peru, and read subsampling demonstrated that the viral communities detected were consistent at commonly attained depths of sequencing. The protocol developed in this chapter enables minimally biased comparative viral community studies in non-invasive samples collected from wildlife.
Having a detailed understanding of viral diversity in key wildlife hosts is an important first step in evaluating the risk of zoonotic disease emergence, but we still lack a holistic view of viral communities in many species including vampire bats. In Chapter 3, I used the metagenomic sequencing protocol developed in Chapter 2 to thoroughly characterize viral communities in the saliva and feces of vampire bats captured across Peru. Viruses were detected from a range of natural host groups including vertebrate-associated taxa that were potentially infecting vampire bats, bacteriophages associated with gut bacteria, and plant- or insect-infecting viruses potentially acquired from the environment. There were broad differences between fecal and saliva viral communities, showing evidence of body habitat compartmentalization. Overall, results established that vampire bat viral communities differ between body habitats and suggested that, for the vertebrate-infecting families analyzed, novel viruses mostly fall within bat-specific clades, without evidence of livestock or humans acting as a major source of viral diversity in vampire bats.
Interspecific differences in ecological and life history traits are known to impact viral richness in bats, but the factors structuring viral communities within bat species are less well understood. In Chapter 4, I examined the spatial, demographic and environmental correlates of intraspecific viral diversity in vampire bats. Three measures of viral diversity were calculated at the colony level: richness, a novel measure of taxonomic diversity, and community composition. Generalized linear models were then used to test the effects of broad scale and local ecological variables on saliva and fecal viral diversity. The results showed for the first time that ecological variables can influence intraspecific viral diversity.
In summary, the work presented in this thesis advances our understanding of wildlife-associated viral communities in an ecologically important bat host. Future directions in comparative wildlife viral metagenomics, as discussed in Chapter 5, will include exploring the determinants of viral communities across host species, environments and time.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Viral community, shotgun metagenomics, ecological metagenomics, Desmodus rotundus.
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH426 Genetics
Q Science > QL Zoology
Q Science > QR Microbiology > QR355 Virology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Funder's Name: Wellcome Trust (WELLCOTR)
Supervisor's Name: Streicker, Dr. Daniel, Orton, Dr. Richard and Biek, Dr. Roman
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Laura Michelle Bergner
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-30811
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 Sep 2018 08:23
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2021 15:48
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.30811
Related URLs:

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year