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Science Wednesday: Biodiversity Loss Impacts Global Disease Ecology

2009 December 16

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
In this month’s Bioscience , we lead a team of ecologists, epidemiologists, an economist, and policy analyst on an article linking biodiversity decline and infectious disease transmission.

For the paper, the research team reviewed and compared seven case studies—malaria, schistosomiasis, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, enteric disease, and allergic diseases—and developed a typology of proposed mechanisms linking human health and biodiversity, from the level of genes to habitats.

What did we find? For one thing, the recent emergence and reemergence of infectious diseases appears to be driven by globalization and ecological disruption. We propose that habitat destruction and biodiversity loss can increase the incidence and distribution of infectious diseases affecting humans.

We think the article could have a major impact on our understanding of the relationship between biodiversity and human health, and the use of new environmentally-based strategies to protect both the environment and public health.

Protecting natural areas, such as national parks and refuges, is the focus of many conservation efforts, but this approach alone cannot prevent biodiversity loss. And since typically not very many people live near these areas, most people don’t realize how valuable they are.

We suggest that biodiversity protection may be just as important to people on a local scale, in their everyday lives, and that science-based management approaches can produce co-benefits for conservation and for human health.

Our paper is a truly interdisciplinary undertaking. While we have training in public health and conservation biology, our fellow contributors include ecologists, epidemiologists, an economist, and a policy analyst. As is the case with biodiversity protection, we believe that this interdisciplinary approach has multiple advantages. It allows us to explore biodiversity conservation, the history of disease, and to take an economic perspective (relevant to decision-making processes) on these disciplines.

The paper concludes with ways we think we can move forward in research and policy, but that will certainly involve more interdisciplinary work on our part. We’re looking forward to that!

About the Authors: Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, is an Environmental Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor, and Joe Roman, PhD, is a conservation biologist and a Fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, University of Vermont, Burlington. He was previously at the EPA as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. David permalink
    December 16, 2009

    Where can I read the case study?

  2. Joseph Zummach permalink
    December 16, 2009

    I was intrigued by a previous posting concerning the link between Biodiversity and Health and Aaron Ferster contacted me offering to send a copy of a study. I have yet to hear back I’m fascinated by the science. Having an intuitive sense of the link, I see in this synopsis you mention the link with globalization and the increase in infectious disease. I’m also curious about the local scale conservation management approaches. Thank you for this posting.

  3. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    December 16, 2009

    This sounds like it will be an important scientific paper. It is critical to get the word out about the impacts of certain human activities on the destruction of biodiversity and habitat. The emergence of new and re-emergence of older sicknesses is just one problem resulting from unchecked human activity. Nor is this a problem confined to developed countries. Some of the worst biodiversity destruction is taking place in poor, developing countries, and it can have national, regional, and international impacts. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  4. Jackenson Durand permalink
    December 17, 2009

    We do understand if we would not have any connection between biodiversities and us; we could just go to live at any of our system solar planet, where biodiversities are inexistent so far.
    For that reason, we must preserve our Eco-systems by improving better environmental science worldwide analyze study.

  5. Aaron at EPA permalink
    December 17, 2009

    Hi All:

    We are working on posting a link to Dr. Ponsiri and Dr. Roman’s paper, but in the meantime, please take a look at some of the excellent references linked from the “Selected Readings” section of EPA’s Biodiversity and Human Health Web site:

    -Aaron (Science Wednesday Editor)

  6. sara permalink
    December 18, 2009

    Thanks again for everyone who has followed Science Wednesday during 2009 posted their reviews here, and I look forward to your comments in 2010. This is my experience as well. It is not only a great way to wrap up the year, but a perfect fit to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment—air, water and land—upon which life depends.

  7. Aaron at EPA permalink
    December 23, 2009

    Here is a link to the article:

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