15. LIFE ON LAND

Biodiversity Loss Increases the Risk of Disease Outbreaks, Analysis Suggests

Biodiversity Loss Increases the Risk of Disease Outbreaks, Analysis Suggests
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Biodiversity Loss Increases the Risk of Disease Outbreaks, Analysis Suggests  Smithsonian Magazine

Biodiversity Loss Increases the Risk of Disease Outbreaks, Analysis Suggests

Human Activity Linked to Increased Risk of Disease Outbreaks, Study Finds

A monarch butterfly sips nectar from an orange and red flower.
Human-caused biodiversity loss is a major factor that could contribute to more frequent and severe disease outbreaks, according to a new study.
Renee Grayson via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 DEED

Introduction

Human-driven changes to the planet are bringing widespread and sometimes surprising effects—including shifting the Earth’s rotation, hiding meteorites in Antarctic ice, and potentially supporting locust swarms.

Now, a large-scale analysis of nearly 1,000 scientific studies has shown just how closely human activity is tied to public health. Published last week in the journal Nature, the findings suggest anthropogenic environmental changes are making the risk of infectious disease outbreaks all the more likely.

The Impact of Biodiversity Loss

The biodiversity crisis—which has left some one million plant and animal species at risk of extinction—is a leading driver of disease spread, the researchers found.

“It could mean that by modifying the environment, we increase the risks of future pandemics,” Jason Rohr, a co-author of the study and a biologist at the University of Notre Dame, tells the Washington Post’s Scott Dance.

Factors Affecting Disease Outbreaks

The analysis centered on earlier studies that investigated at least one of five “global change drivers” affecting wildlife and landscapes on Earth: biodiversity change, climate change, habitat change or loss, chemical pollution, and the introduction of non-native species to new areas. Based on the previous studies’ findings, they collected nearly 3,000 data points related to how each of these factors might impact the severity or prevalence of infectious disease outbreaks.

Researchers aimed to avoid a human-centric approach to their analysis, considering also how plants and animals would be at risk from pathogens. Their conclusions showed that four of the examined factors—climate change, chemical pollution, the introduction of non-native species to new areas, and biodiversity loss—all increased the likelihood of spreading disease, with the latter having the most significant impact.

The Dilution Effect

Disease and mortality were nearly nine times higher in areas of the world where human activity has decreased biodiversity, compared to the levels expected by Earth’s natural variation in biodiversity, per the Washington Post.

Scientists hypothesize this finding could be explained by the “dilution effect”: the idea that pathogens and parasites evolve to thrive in the most common species, so the loss of rarer creatures makes infection more likely.

“That means that the species that remain are the competent ones, the ones that are really good at transmitting disease,” Rohr tells the New York Times’ Emily Anthes.

Examples of Disease Outbreaks

For example, white-footed mice, the main carriers of Lyme disease, have become one of the most dominant species in their habitat as other, rarer animals have disappeared—a change that might have played a role, among other factors, in driving rising rates of Lyme disease in the United States.

Deforestation, another type of habitat loss, has been shown to increase the likelihood of disease. The incidence of malaria and Ebola, for example, worsens in such instances.

Implications for Public Health

The new work adds to past research on how human activity can prompt the spread of disease. And both habitat loss and climate change may force some animals to move closer together—and closer to humans—increasing the potential for transmitting disease.

Additionally, the research signals the need for public health officials to remain vigilant as the effects of human-caused climate change play out, experts say.

“It’s a big step forward in the science,” Colin Carlson, a global change biologist at Georgetown University, tells the New York Times. “This paper is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that I think has been published that shows how important it is health systems start getting ready to exist in a world with climate change, with biodiversity loss.”

Conclusion

The study highlights the significant impact of human activity on the risk of disease outbreaks. It emphasizes the importance of addressing biodiversity loss, climate change, habitat change or loss, chemical pollution, and the introduction of non-native species as part of efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By taking action to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change, we can reduce the likelihood of future pandemics and promote global health and well-being.

SDGs, Targets, and Indicators

1. Which SDGs are addressed or connected to the issues highlighted in the article?

  • SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 13: Climate Action
  • SDG 15: Life on Land

2. What specific targets under those SDGs can be identified based on the article’s content?

  • SDG 3.3: By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases, and other communicable diseases.
  • SDG 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
  • SDG 15.5: Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity, and protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.

3. Are there any indicators mentioned or implied in the article that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets?

  • Indicator for SDG 3.3: Disease and mortality rates in areas with decreased biodiversity compared to natural variation in biodiversity.
  • Indicator for SDG 13.1: Impact of climate change on permafrost melt and release of pathogens.
  • Indicator for SDG 15.5: Impact of biodiversity loss on disease spread and prevalence.

Table: SDGs, Targets, and Indicators

SDGs Targets Indicators
SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being SDG 3.3: By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases, and other communicable diseases. Disease and mortality rates in areas with decreased biodiversity compared to natural variation in biodiversity.
SDG 13: Climate Action SDG 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries. Impact of climate change on permafrost melt and release of pathogens.
SDG 15: Life on Land SDG 15.5: Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity, and protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species. Impact of biodiversity loss on disease spread and prevalence.

Copyright: Dive into this article, curated with care by SDG Investors Inc. Our advanced AI technology searches through vast amounts of data to spotlight how we are all moving forward with the Sustainable Development Goals. While we own the rights to this content, we invite you to share it to help spread knowledge and spark action on the SDGs.

Fuente: smithsonianmag.com

 

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