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Spatial and temporal dynamics of rabies virus variants in big brown bat populations across Canada: footprints of an emerging zoonosis


Susan A. Nadin-Davis, E-mail:


Phylogenetic analysis of a collection of rabies viruses that currently circulate in Canadian big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) identified five distinct lineages which have emerged from a common ancestor that existed over 400 years ago. Four of these lineages are regionally restricted in their range while the fifth lineage, comprising two-thirds of all specimens, has emerged in recent times and exhibits a recent demographic expansion with rapid spread across the Canadian range of its host. Four of these viral lineages are shown to circulate in the US. To explore the role of the big brown bat host in dissemination of these viral variants, the population structure of this species was explored using both mitochondrial DNA and nuclear microsatellite markers. These data suggest the existence of three subpopulations distributed in British Columbia, mid-western Canada (Alberta and Saskatchewan) and eastern Canada (Quebec and Ontario), respectively. We suggest that these three bat subpopulations may differ by their level of female phylopatry, which in turn affects the spread of rabies viruses. We discuss how this bat population structure has affected the historical spread of rabies virus variants across the country and the potential impact of these events on public health concerns regarding rabies.