Culling vampire bats in South America to combat the spread of rabies could be having the opposite effect, according to a modelling study.

Vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) transmit the rabies virus by biting humans and livestock. Julie Blackwood at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and her colleagues analysed field data on individual bats collected from 17 colonies in Peru between 2007 and 2010. They found that the rabies virus probably does not persist in a single bat colony, but instead is spread between colonies by wandering bats. Most infections do not kill bats but confer temporary immunity, which also maintains the levels of virus.

Bat culls, the researchers note, may increase movement of bats and thus promote the spread of the disease.

Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (2013)