Biodiversity vital for human health
by David Masters
May 27, 2009
Biodiversity not only makes nature more interesting, it plays a vital role in keeping humans healthy.
A study of rodent diseases by scientists from the University of New Mexico found that the deadly hantavirus spread three times faster when the number of rodent species drops.
Like swine-flu and bird-flu, hantavirus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to humans, and is often fatal.
The scientists who conducted the study believe it is evidence of how reducing biodiversity creates a “dilution effect”, increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases jumping from animals to humans.
“We are undergoing a massive episode of extinction by human hands,” said Richard Ostfeld, ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.
“If we have a less diverse planet, it means we will have a sicker human population.”
The Panama study reflects the results of previous studies demonstrating that when biodiversity drops, rates of SARS, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and other zoonotic diseases rise.
“The potential link that biodiversity loss could actually hurt human health or wildlife health is a pretty eye-opening concept for many people,” said Pieter Johnson, a disease ecologist at the University of Colorado.
“If we don’t want to get sick, then we need to keep more species around.”
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