Bedford, NH — Often viewed as a staple of popular culture''''s fascination with horror stories, the common vampire bat typically feeds on the blood of Central and South American wildlife and livestock. And while they have been known to bite and feed on human blood, health fears regarding the bats have mostly been confined to their impact on livestock, particularly since they have recently been documented within 35 miles of the Texas border. This has resulted in concern and speculation about disease transfer and infection, based on the potential expansion of vampire bats to the United States as a result of changing climates in different parts of North America.
To gain a better understanding of the likelihood of such movement, Normandeau Senior Bat Ecologist Dr. Mark Hayes and Dr. Toni Piaggio, a molecular ecologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture''s National Wildlife Research Center, partnered to analyze and map the potential distribution of vampire bats under various climate scenarios. "Because there are relatively high numbers of cattle and other livestock in northeastern Mexico and southern Texas, wildlife managers and ranchers are concerned that vampire bats could survive in these areas and spread disease," states Piaggio. "This could have serious economic impacts to livestock producers since vampire bat bites are known to weaken cattle, reduce milk production, cause secondary infections, and sometimes death, especially if cattle contract rabies."
Hayes and Piaggio used over 7,000 reports of vampire bats in northern Mexico and five modeling approaches, in order to map the potential distribution of the species along the Mexico-U.S. border through the year 2070. The models'' results were then extrapolated to reflect future climate scenarios. Hayes and Piaggio concluded that the southern tip of Texas and Florida may become suitable by year 2070, but none of the maps predicted that areas would become suitable between the current northern limit of vampire bats and Arizona or California.
This project is an example of how Normandeau scientists are collaborating with federal researchers on projects that use cutting edge modeling to help make more informed decisions related to questions of importance to the nation. This publication is available here.