Biodiversity loss, emerging pathogens and human health risks

Thumyat Noe ’21

Figure 1: Humans and wildlife have coexisted, but increased human dependence on wildlife have disrupted ecosystems and contributed to a rise in disease outbreaks. 

Research suggests that the number of zoonoses, diseases transmitted from humans to animals, has been increasing across the planet. This implies that the frequency of epidemics and pandemics may rise in the future. Zoonotic pathogens have an animal origin and have always existed, but their prevalence and geographic spread are increasing at an alarming rate. Wildlife pathogen epidemics are also on the rise, but in general, the occurrence of wildlife pathogens is normal and plays an important role in nature as a driving force for evolution. However, as a possible result of increased interaction between wildlife and humans, more infectious and deadly pathogens from wildlife have infiltrated human societies. In addition to increased interaction between humans and the wildlife, climate change, biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, and human-driven introductions of pathogens and invasive species through extensive travel and trade have applied tremendous stress on our ecosystems and may have contributed to a rise in disease outbreaks.  

As the human population grows, exploitation of ecosystems also increases. This accelerates pathogen transfer between humans. This is problematic because scientists are unaware of how dangerous some of these pathogens can be; therefore, humans are unprepared to face the consequences. COVID-19 is a relevant example of how humans are not yet capable of overcoming an unexpected pandemic. The virus also originated from the wildlife, supporting recent research that zoonoses are now posing increasing risk to societies. This pandemic has already resulted in plummeting economies and serious social distress worldwide, further emphasizing the need for humans to reflect on their interactions with the ecosystem. Habitat destruction, overexploitation and transportation of species, industrial farming, and the increasing volume of travel have all destabilized this environment and ultimately led to this situation. A better understanding of the interconnectedness between humans and nature as well as regulations are necessary to prevent a similar situation in the future. 

Works cited: 

[1] D.S. Schmeller, et al., Biodiversity loss, emerging pathogens and human health risks. Biodiversity and Conservation 29, 3095-3102(2020) . Doi: 10.1007/s10531-020-02021-6

[2] Image retrieved from:https://www.pexels.com/photo/air-air-pollution-climate-change-dawn-221012/

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