Climate change could be to blame for the creation of COVID-19, researchers have said.

According to a team from the University of Cambridge, greenhouse gas emissions have made southern China a hotspot for bat-borne coronaviruses.

A new study has found that changes to temperature, sunlight, and atmospheric carbon dioxide have impacted the growth of plants and trees, which have changed the natural habitats for many bat species that live in forests.

There is a close link to the number of bat species found in any one area to coronaviruses rates. The research team found an additional 40 bat species have moved into region where COVID-19 was first thought to have arisen.

Dr Robert Beyer, a researcher from the university’s Department of Zoology and first author of the study, said: “Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province suitable for more bat species.

“Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The trial involved using records of temperature, precipitation, and cloud cover to create a map of vegetation from a century ago.

The researchers then looked at bat species vegetation requirements from the early 1900s and compared it to what they require nowadays.

Dr Beyer said: “As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others — taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present, but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve.”

The world’s bat population carries around 3,000 different types of coronavirus, with each bat species harbouring an average of 2.7 coronaviruses.

The region that the researchers identified for this study was also home to pangolins, which are suggested to have acted as intermediate hosts to SARS-CoV-2. It is thought the virus may have jumped from bats to these animals, which were then sold at a wildlife market in Wuhan.

Professor Andrea Manica, also from the Department of Zoology, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous social and economic damage. Governments must seize the opportunity to reduce health risks from infectious diseases by taking decisive action to mitigate climate change.”

The findings have been published in the Science of the Total Environment journal.

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