Loss of biodiversity increases spread of disease

Preserving large intact areas could help reduce disease Copyright: Flickr/tauntingpanda

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Biodiversity could have an important role in limiting the spread of infectious diseases, a study has found.

A review of several dozen studies that examined 12 different diseases in various ecosystems found that biodiversity seems to protect ecosystems against the transmission of diseases.

"A pattern is emerging," said Felicia Keesing, a biologist at Bard College, United States.

Researchers still do not know why this is the case but they have suggested that, in more diverse environments, disease-causing organisms, or pathogens, more often end up in a ‘dead end’ host that does not transmit it as efficiently.

But the study also found that, in areas with higher biodiversity, diseases might be more prone to jumping from animals to humans.

Keesing thinks that it could be greater interaction between humans and wildlife, such as hunting for bush meat, that fosters the jump into humans — not biodiversity itself.

"Biodiversity could be a source of new diseases but, once a disease emerges, greater biodiversity is protective," she said.

"Preserving large intact areas and minimising contact with wildlife would go a big step of the way to reducing disease."

Will Turner, an ecologist and director of conservation priorities at Conservation International, a US-based campaign group, said: "The clear message is that we degrade ecosystems at our own peril".

Link to full article in Nature

Link to full paper in Nature