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.”
Amputees can learn to control a robotic arm with their minds
28.11.2017 | University of Chicago Medical Center
The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.
Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences
15.12.2017 | Life Sciences