Extension of the known distribution of a novel clade C betacoronavirus in a wildlife host.
ABSTRACT: Disease surveillance in wildlife populations presents a logistical challenge, yet is critical in gaining a deeper understanding of the presence and impact of wildlife pathogens. Erinaceus coronavirus (EriCoV), a clade C Betacoronavirus, was first described in Western European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) in Germany. Here, our objective was to determine whether EriCoV is present, and if it is associated with disease, in Great Britain (GB). An EriCoV-specific BRYT-Green® real-time reverse transcription PCR assay was used to test 351 samples of faeces or distal large intestinal tract contents collected from casualty or dead hedgehogs from a wide area across GB. Viral RNA was detected in 10.8% (38) samples; however, the virus was not detected in any of the 61 samples tested from Scotland. The full genome sequence of the British EriCoV strain was determined using next generation sequencing; it shared 94% identity with a German EriCoV sequence. Multivariate statistical models using hedgehog case history data, faecal specimen descriptions and post-mortem examination findings found no significant associations indicative of disease associated with EriCoV in hedgehogs. These findings indicate that the Western European hedgehog is a reservoir host of EriCoV in the absence of apparent disease.
Project description:While dromedaries are the immediate animal source of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) epidemic, viruses related to MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have also been found in bats as well as hedgehogs. To elucidate the evolution of MERS-CoV-related viruses and their interspecies transmission pathway, samples were collected from different mammals in China. A novel coronavirus related to MERS-CoV, Erinaceus amurensis hedgehog coronavirus HKU31 (Ea-HedCoV HKU31), was identified from two Amur hedgehogs. Genome analysis supported that Ea-HedCoV HKU31 represents a novel species under Merbecovirus, being most closely related to Erinaceus CoV from European hedgehogs in Germany, with 79.6% genome sequence identity. Compared to other members of Merbecovirus, Ea-HedCoV HKU31 possessed unique non-structural proteins and putative cleavage sites at ORF1ab. Phylogenetic analysis showed that Ea-HedCoV HKU31 and BetaCoV Erinaceus/VMC/DEU/2012 were closely related to NeoCoV and BatCoV PREDICT from African bats in the spike region, suggesting that the latter bat viruses have arisen from recombination between CoVs from hedgehogs and bats. The predicted HKU31 receptor-binding domain (RBD) possessed only one out of 12 critical amino acid residues for binding to human dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (hDPP4), the MERS-CoV receptor. The structural modeling of the HKU31-RBD-hDPP4 binding interphase compared to that of MERS-CoV and Tylonycteris bat CoV HKU4 (Ty-BatCoV HKU4) suggested that HKU31-RBD is unlikely to bind to hDPP4. Our findings support that hedgehogs are an important reservoir of Merbecovirus, with evidence of recombination with viruses from bats. Further investigations in bats, hedgehogs and related animals are warranted to understand the evolution of MERS-CoV-related viruses.
Project description:The Western European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is one of the four hedgehog species belonging to the genus Erinaceus. Among them, E. amurensis is extant in East Asia's areas only, whereas E. europaeus, E. roumanicus and E. concolor are mainly found in Europe. E. europaeus is endemically distributed from western to central and southern Europe, including Italy. Western European hedgehogs' ecological and feeding habits, along with their high population densities, notable synanthropic attitudes, frequent contacts with sympatric wild and domestic species, including humans, implicate the possible involvement of E. europaeus in the ecology of potentially emerging viruses, such as coronaviruses, influenza A and influenza D viruses, canine distemper virus, pestiviruses and Aujeszky's disease virus. We examined 24 E. europaeus individuals found injured in urban and rural areas of Northern Italy. Of the 24 fecal samples collected and tested for the above-mentioned pathogens by both PCR-based and virus isolation methods, 14 were found PCR-positive for betacoronaviruses belonging to lineage C and related to the known Erinaceus coronaviruses (EriCoVs), as determined by partial sequencing of the virus genome. Our findings suggest that hedgehogs could be considered natural reservoirs of CoVs, and also act as chronic shedding carriers of these potentially emerging RNA viruses.
Project description:Bats are known to host viruses closely related to important human coronaviruses (HCoVs), such as HCoV-229E, severe-acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), and Middle East respiratory syndrome CoV (MERS-CoV). As RNA viruses may coevolve with their hosts, we sought to investigate the closest sister taxon to bats, the Eulipotyphla, and screened European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) from Germany for CoV by nested reverse transcriptase PCR. A novel betacoronavirus species in a phylogenetic sister relationship to MERS-CoV and clade c bat CoVs was detected and characterized on the whole-genome level. A total of 58.9% of hedgehog fecal specimens were positive for the novel CoV (EriCoV) at 7.9 log10 mean RNA copies per ml. EriCoV RNA concentrations were higher in the intestine than in other solid organs, blood, or urine. Detailed analyses of the full hedgehog intestine showed the highest EriCoV concentrations in lower gastrointestinal tract specimens, compatible with viral replication in the lower intestine and fecal-oral transmission. Thirteen of 27 (48.2%) hedgehog sera contained non-neutralizing antibodies against MERS-CoV. The animal origins of this betacoronavirus clade that includes MERS-CoV may thus include both bat and nonbat hosts.
Project description:With urban areas growing worldwide comes an increase in artificial light at night (ALAN), causing a significant impact on wildlife behaviour and its ecological relationships. The effects of ALAN on nocturnal and protected European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) are unknown but their identification is important for sustainable species conservation and management. In a pilot study, we investigated the influence of ALAN on the natural movement behaviour of 22 hedgehogs (nine females, 13 males) in urban environments. Over the course of four years, we equipped hedgehogs at three different study locations in Berlin with biologgers to record their behaviour for several weeks. We used Global Positioning System (GPS) tags to monitor their spatial behaviour, very high-frequency (VHF) loggers to locate their nests during daytime, and accelerometers to distinguish between active and passive behaviours. We compared the mean light intensity of the locations recorded when the hedgehogs were active with the mean light intensity of simulated locations randomly distributed in the individual's home range. We were able to show that the ALAN intensity of the hedgehogs' habitations was significantly lower compared to the simulated values, regardless of the animal's sex. This ALAN-related avoidance in the movement behaviour can be used for applied hedgehog conservation.
Project description:Sporadic cases of herpesvirus-associated disease have been reported in the Western European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), but there has been little surveillance for, nor any sequence characterisation of, herpesviruses in this species to date. A nested pan-herpesvirus polymerase chain reaction (PCR) targeting a region of the DNA polymerase gene was used to test 129 Western European hedgehogs from across Great Britain, 2011-2016; 59 (46%) of which were PCR-positive. In addition, samples from two previously published cases of fatal herpesvirus infection in E. europaeus, from Sweden and Switzerland, were positive using this PCR. No statistically significant relationship was detected between PCR result and sex, age class, year or season for the British hedgehogs tested. In most PCR-positive animals (19/22) from which liver and brain were tested separately, both were PCR-positive. Sanger sequencing of amplicons from 59 British hedgehogs revealed at least two novel viruses within the Gammaherpesvirinae. Thirteen of these hedgehogs had liver and brain tissues screened for microscopic abnormalities, of which one had non-suppurative meningoencephalitis, but neither intranuclear inclusion bodies nor herpesvirus virions (on electron microscopical examination) were identified. Sequencing of the whole DNA polymerase gene confirmed two genetically different Human alphaherpesvirus 1 viruses in the Swedish and Swiss hedgehogs.
Project description:This study aimed to analyze the admission causes, outcomes, primary causes of death, and main lesions observed in the post mortem examinations of Western European hedgehogs, Erinaceus europaeus (Linnaeus, 1758), in the north of Portugal. The data were obtained by consulting the records from the two main wildlife rehabilitation centers located in the north of Portugal (Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre of Parque Biologico de Gaia and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro). Over 17 years (2002-2019) a total of 740 animals were admitted. Most of the animals were juveniles, with the highest number of admissions occurring during summer (36.8%) and spring (33.2%). The main reasons for admission were debilitation (30.7%) and random finds (28.4%). Of the total number of individuals admitted to these centers, 66.6% were successfully released back into the wild. The most relevant causes of death were trauma of unknown origin (32.7%), nontrauma causes of unknown origin (26.6%), and nutritional disorders (20.2%). The main lesions observed were related to trauma, including skeletal and skin lesions (fractures, hemorrhages, wounds) and organ damage, particularly to the lungs and liver. The hedgehog is a highly resilient and adaptable animal. The urban environment has many benefits for hedgehogs, yet the presence of humans can be harmful. In the future, the public needs to become even more involved in the activities of the wildlife centres, which will make a positive difference for these populations.
Project description:West European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) are likely to encounter unusual ecological features in urban habitats, such as anthropogenic food sources and artificial refugia. Quantifying how these affect hedgehog behaviour is vital for informing conservation guidelines for householders. We monitored hedgehog presence/absence in gardens in the town of Reading, UK, over the winter of 2017-2018 using a volunteer-based footprint tunnel survey, and collected data on garden characteristics, supplementary feeding (SF) habits, and local environmental conditions. Over a 20-week survey period, hedgehog presence was lowest between January and March. Occupancy analysis indicated that SF significantly affected hedgehog presence/absence before, during, and after hibernation. The number of nesting opportunities available in gardens, average temperatures, and daylength were also supported as important factors at different stages. In particular, our results suggest that SF could act to increase levels of activity during the winter when hedgehogs should be hibernating. Stimulating increased activity at this sensitive time could push hedgehogs into a net energy deficit or, conversely, help some individuals survive which might not otherwise do so. Therefore, further research is necessary to determine whether patterns of feeding by householders have a positive or negative effect on hedgehog populations during the hibernation period.
Project description:Biodiversity is declining globally, which calls for effective conservation measures. It is, therefore, important to investigate the drivers behind species presence at large spatial scales. The Western European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is one of the species facing declines in parts of its range. Yet, drivers of Western European hedgehog distribution at large spatial scales remain largely unknown. At local scales, the Eurasian badger (Meles meles), an intraguild predator of the Western European hedgehog, can affect both the abundance and the distribution of the latter. However, the Western European hedgehog and the Eurasian badger have shown to be able to co-exist at a landscape scale. We investigated whether the Eurasian badger may play a role in the likelihood of the presence of the Western European hedgehog throughout England by using two nationwide citizen science surveys. Although habitat-related factors explained more variation in the likelihood of Western European hedgehog presence, our results suggest that Eurasian badger presence negatively impacts the likelihood of Western European hedgehog presence. Intraguild predation may, therefore, be influencing the nationwide distribution of hedgehogs in England, and further research is needed about how changes in badger densities and intensifying agricultural practices that remove shelters like hedgerows may influence hedgehog presence.
Project description:Anthropogenic activities can result in both transient and permanent changes in the environment. We studied spatial and temporal behavioural responses of European hedgehogs (<i>Erinaceus europaeus</i>) to a transient (open-air music festival) and a permanent (highly fragmented area) disturbance in the city of Berlin, Germany. Activity, foraging and movement patterns were observed in two distinct areas in 2016 and 2017 using a "Before & After" and "Control & Impact" study design. Confronted with a music festival, hedgehogs substantially changed their movement behaviour and nesting patterns and decreased the rhythmic synchronization (DFC) of their activity patterns with the environment. These findings suggest that a music festival is a substantial stressor influencing the trade-off between foraging and risk avoidance. Hedgehogs in a highly fragmented area used larger home ranges and moved faster than in low-fragmented and low-disturbed areas. They also showed behaviours and high DFCs similar to individuals in low-fragmented, low disturbed environment, suggesting that fragmentation posed a moderate challenge which they could accommodate. The acute but transient disturbance of a music festival, therefore, had more substantial and severe behavioural effects than the permanent disturbance through fragmentation. Our results are relevant for the welfare and conservation measure of urban wildlife and highlight the importance of allowing wildlife to avoid urban music festivals by facilitating avoidance behaviours.
Project description:Bio-logging is an essential tool for the investigation of behavior, ecology, and physiology of wildlife. This burgeoning field enables the improvement of population monitoring and conservation efforts, particularly for small, elusive animals where data collection is difficult. Device attachment usually requires species-specific solutions to ensure that data loggers exert minimal influence on the animal's behavior and physiology, and ensure high reliability of data capture. External features or peculiar body shapes often make securing devices difficult for long-term monitoring, as in the case with small spiny mammals. Here, we present a method that enables high-resolution, long-term investigations of European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) via GPS and acceleration loggers. We collected data from 17 wild hedgehogs with devices attached between 9 and 42 days. Our results showed that hedgehogs behaved naturally; as individuals curled, moved through dense vegetation, slipped under fences and built regular day nests without any indication of impediment. Our novel method makes it possible to not only attach high-precision devices for substantially longer than previous efforts, but enables detachment and reattachment of devices to the same individual. This makes it possible to quickly respond to unforeseen events and exchange devices, and overcomes the issue of short battery life common to many lightweight loggers.