Science Wednesday: EPA Helps Celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity

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As part of a series of United Nations (UN) events celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB), and to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, the UN Environment Programme organized an event on April 30 at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.

The event brought together scientists—including me—for a panel discussion on the important roles biodiversity and ecosystems play for children’s health and well-being.

We discussed the implications of continued biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation for children, highlighting key concepts with case studies in Africa and Latin America. We also talked about actions we think would provide mutual benefit to both conserving biodiversity and protecting children’s health and well-being.

So what can be done to achieve mutual benefits for biodiversity and child health?

Erika Vohman, of the Equilibrium Fund, presented one great example from the Fund’s award-winning Maya Nut Program in Latin America. The program concentrates on helping rural women, acquire skills to produce and sell products made from Maya nuts they harvest from the rain forest.

The nuts are extremely nutritious, providing high levels of protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, E, C, and B. Vohman’s team has documented a wide array of benefits from the program, including rising income levels, increased self-esteem and status for the women, food security for families, and better health and nutrition for mothers and their children. They even found an increase in infant birth weights.

The event gave me the opportunity to talk about EPA’s efforts to develop transdisciplinary studies linking ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health. One example, as I’ve blogged about previously, is our effort to explore the links between biodiversity and Lyme disease transmission (for which incidence rates are highest among children.) These studies are fostering partnerships among ecologists, epidemiologists, urban/suburban planners, and local and state governments to discuss scientific advances and new risk prevention/reduction strategies at the landscape and household scales.
It takes a community to engage in biodiversity and children’s health and to put results into action!

About the author: Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, is an Environmental Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor. She has blogged about her work exploring the links between biodiversity and human health for Science Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: A podcast of the event is available at: http://www.amnh.org/news/2010/05/podcast-childrens-health-ecosystems/. A brochure of key messages from the event will be publicized by partners and used during IYB, including for the General Assembly’s High Level Meetings on the IYB and progress towards the MDGs, and the 10th Conference of the Parties to CBD in Nagoya, Japan.