Author(s): Streicker DG, Lemey P, VelascoVilla A, Rupprecht CE
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Abstract Rates of evolution span orders of magnitude among RNA viruses with important implications for viral transmission and emergence. Although the tempo of viral evolution is often ascribed to viral features such as mutation rates and transmission mode, these factors alone cannot explain variation among closely related viruses, where host biology might operate more strongly on viral evolution. Here, we analyzed sequence data from hundreds of rabies viruses collected from bats throughout the Americas to describe dramatic variation in the speed of rabies virus evolution when circulating in ecologically distinct reservoir species. Integration of ecological and genetic data through a comparative bayesian analysis revealed that viral evolutionary rates were labile following historical jumps between bat species and nearly four times faster in tropical and subtropical bats compared to temperate species. The association between geography and viral evolution could not be explained by host metabolism, phylogeny or variable selection pressures, and instead appeared to be a consequence of reduced seasonality in bat activity and virus transmission associated with climate. Our results demonstrate a key role for host ecology in shaping the tempo of evolution in multi-host viruses and highlight the power of comparative phylogenetic methods to identify the host and environmental features that influence transmission dynamics.
This article was published in PLoS Pathog
and referenced in Molecular Biology: Open Access