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Discovery of novel virus sequences in an isolated and threatened bat species, the New Zealand lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata)


Bats harbour a diverse array of viruses, including significant human pathogens. Extensive metagenomic studies of material from bats, in particular guano, have revealed a large number of novel or divergent viral taxa that were previously unknown. New Zealand has only two extant indigenous terrestrial mammals, which are both bats, Mystacina tuberculata (the lesser short-tailed bat) and Chalinolobus tuberculatus (the long-tailed bat). Until the human introduction of exotic mammals, these species had been isolated from all other terrestrial mammals for over 1 million years (potentially over 16 million years for M. tuberculata). Four bat guano samples were collected from M. tuberculata roosts on the isolated offshore island of Whenua hou (Codfish Island) in New Zealand. Metagenomic analysis revealed that this species still hosts a plethora of divergent viruses. Whilst the majority of viruses detected were likely to be of dietary origin, some putative vertebrate virus sequences were identified. Papillomavirus, polyomavirus, calicivirus and hepevirus were found in the metagenomic data and subsequently confirmed using independent PCR assays and sequencing. The new hepevirus and calicivirus sequences may represent new genera within these viral families. Our findings may provide an insight into the origins of viral families, given their detection in an isolated host species.

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