Serological evidence of a pararubulavirus and a betacoronavirus in the geographically isolated Christmas Island flying-fox (Pteropus natalis)

Laura A. Pulscher, Alison J. Peel, Karrie Rose, Justin A. Welbergen, Michelle L. Baker, Victoria Boyd, Samantha Low-Choy, Dan Edson, Christopher Todd, Annabel Dorrestein, Jane Hall, Shawn Todd, Christopher C. Broder, Lianying Yan, Kai Xu, Grantley R. Peck, David N. Phalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Due to their geographical isolation and small populations, insular bats may not be able to maintain acute immunizing viruses that rely on a large population for viral maintenance. Instead, endemic transmission may rely on viruses establishing persistent infections within hosts or inducing only short-lived neutralizing immunity. Therefore, studies on insular populations are valuable for developing broader understanding of viral maintenance in bats. The Christmas Island flying-fox (CIFF; Pteropus natalis) is endemic on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory, and is an ideal model species to understand viral maintenance in small, geographically isolated bat populations. Serum or plasma (n = 190), oral swabs (n = 199), faeces (n = 31), urine (n = 32) and urine swabs (n = 25) were collected from 228 CIFFs. Samples were tested using multiplex serological and molecular assays, and attempts at virus isolation to determine the presence of paramyxoviruses, betacoronaviruses and Australian bat lyssavirus. Analysis of serological data provides evidence that the species is maintaining a pararubulavirus and a betacoronavirus. There was little serological evidence supporting the presence of active circulation of the other viruses assessed in the present study. No viral nucleic acid was detected and no viruses were isolated. Age-seropositivity results support the hypothesis that geographically isolated bat populations can maintain some paramyxoviruses and coronaviruses. Further studies are required to elucidate infection dynamics and characterize viruses in the CIFF. Lastly, apparent absence of some pathogens could have implications for the conservation of the CIFF if a novel disease were introduced into the population through human carriage or an invasive species. Adopting increased biosecurity protocols for ships porting on Christmas Island and for researchers and bat carers working with flying-foxes are recommended to decrease the risk of pathogen introduction and contribute to the health and conservation of the species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2366-e2377
JournalTransboundary and Emerging Diseases
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Pteropodidae
  • bat
  • betacoronavirus
  • insular populations
  • pararubulavirus
  • viral maintenance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Veterinary


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