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Threat Perception, Emotions and Social Trust of Global Bat Experts before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Straka, Tanja M.; Voigt, Christian C.

Speculations about the origin of SARS-CoV-2 have catapulted bats into the spotlight of scientific and societal attention, with unforeseen consequences for bat conservation. In two global surveys with bat experts before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we assessed their (i) threat perceptions, emotions towards bats and social trust in decision makers and (ii) the predictive potential of emotions, social trust and socio-demographic variables on threat perceptions. We also discuss (iii) the potential influence of the pandemic on threat perception and antecedents (emotions and social trust). We received 495 responses from 65 countries in September 2019 and 320 responses in June 2020 from 77 countries. We identified three major threat categories (indirect, direct and prejudice). Comparing threat perception, emotions and social trust between both surveys, we found that indirect threats (e.g., habitat modification) were considered as crucial, yet less so during the pandemic. During the pandemic, experts rated indirect threats lower and the perceived threat through prejudice (e.g., myths) higher than before the pandemic. During the pandemic, bat experts also expressed more compassion and sadness related to bats and trust in researchers and NGOs, but less trust in laypeople than before the pandemic. Emotions were particularly important predictors for threats through prejudice besides social trust. Socio-demographic variables (e.g., cultural and professional background) had predictive potential predominantly for direct threats (e.g., hunting and trade, wind turbines) and threats through prejudice. Our study highlights the role of emotions and social trust on threat perception among bat experts who remained relatively invisible during the pandemic despite their key role for bat conservation. More importantly, we echo previous calls to be more attentive to ecological grief also within the scientific community; especially as discussions around zoonotic spillover with valued study animals intensify.
Published in: Sustainability, 10.3390/su141811242, MDPI