But the decline of species and their habitats may not just make the world boring. New research now suggests it may also put you at greater risk for catching some nasty disease.
“Habitat destruction and biodiversity loss,”—driven by the replacement of local species by exotic ones, deforestation, global transportation, encroaching cities, and other environmental changes—“can increase the incidence and distribution of infectious diseases in humans,” write University of Vermont biologist Joe Roman, EPA scientist Montira Pongsiri, and seven co-authors in BioScience.
Their study, “Biodiversity Loss Affects Global Disease Ecology,” will appear in the December issue of the journal, available on-line on December 7, 2009.
This is not the first time humans have faced a raft of new diseases. About 10,000 years ago, humans invented farming. This move from hunting to agriculture brought permanent settlements, domestication of animals, and changes in diet. It also brought new infectious diseases, in what scientists call an “epidemiologic transition.”
Another of these transitions came with the Industrial Revolution. Infectious diseases decreased in many places while cancer, allergies and birth defects shot up.
Now, it seems, another epidemiologic transition is upon us. A host of new infectious diseases—like West Nile Virus—have appeared. And infectious diseases thought to be in decline—like malaria—have reasserted themselves and spread.
“Ours is the first article to link the current epidemiological transition,” says Pongsiri, an environmental health expert in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor, “with biodiversity change, decline and extinction.”
“People have been working on this in individual diseases but no one has put all the studies together to compare them,” says Roman. In 2006, he and Pongsiri gathered a group of scientists and policy analysts with expertise in a range of the new diseases being observed—including West Nile virus as well as malaria, the African parasitic disease schistosomiasis, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and several others. From that meeting, the forthcoming BioScience study developed.
“We’ve reviewed all those studies and show that emergence or reemergence of many diseases is related to loss of biodiversity,” says Pongsiri.
“We’ve taken a broad look at this problem to say that it’s not just case-study specific,” she says. “Something is happening at a global scale.”Of Mosquitoes and Mice
“Or think about Lyme disease,” says Roman, calling from Connecticut.
People get this disease from ticks infected with a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. The ticks, in turn, usually get the bacterium by feeding on small mammals—particularly white-footed mice.
“Historically, Lyme disease was probably rare, because you had a large range of mammals, everything from pumas all the way down to a widespread community of rodents,” says Roman. Ticks feed on different species, and, since many are poor hosts for the bacterium, only a limited number of ticks would carry the disease to people. But fragmentation and reduction of forests has led to deep declines in the number of mammals—and white-footed mice tend to thrive in species-poor places, like small patches of forest on the edge of neighborhoods.
“In fact, white-footed mice appear to be the most competent animal host reservoir of Lyme disease in the northeastern U.S.,” Pongsiri notes on an EPA blog, “So, the more white-footed mice that are in the forest, the greater chance more ticks will be infected, and the greater chance you have of getting bitten by an infected tick.”
In other words, if you’re worried about catching Lyme disease, it’s a good idea to wear long pants—but it might be a better idea to join your conservation commission or zoning board since “protecting large forested areas in the vicinity of residential areas may reduce the risk of Lyme disease,” the BioScience paper notes.Eco-epidemiology
“Now there is the beginning of a movement to bring epidemiology and ecology together,” says Pongsiri.
“We’re not saying that biodiversity loss is the primary driver for all of these emerging diseases,” says Roman, “but it appears to be playing an important role.”
“We’re trying to make the case that all of these environmental changes we’re making, because they are anthropogenic, can be managed, can be controlled,” says Pongsiri. “We may be able to actually reduce or prevent these diseases by managing for biodiversity from the genetic level to the habitat level.”
A third of the bird species on the planet are at risk of extinction and a quarter of the mammals, Roman says, “and we have an incredible amount of habitat being destroyed, along with climate change. We should expect to see the impacts of these changes occurring now, to people—and we do.”
“The standard argument for protecting biodiversity is often that, well, there are medicines out there and you don’t want to destroy a forest where you might have a cure for cancer,” he says, “ and that’s true—but I don’t think that’s as compelling as the argument that if you cut down the forest you or your kids are more prone to infectious diseases.”
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
07.12.2016 | Life Sciences
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine