How climate change, biodiversity affect spread of disease

Posted by Gabrielle Jacobs on 30 March 2020

The increase of disease outbreaks has been rising steadily and it’s largely due to climate change and biodiversity loss, says the World Economic Forum.

Over the last few decades, there’ve been more than 12,000 disease outbreaks of 215 human infectious diseases. These outbreaks have affected every country in the world, and can also be attributed to increased levels of travel worldwide, trade industries and high-density living. Climate change and loss of biodiversity, however, are considered the most significant.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) cites deforestation as one of the problems. It drives wild animals out of their natural habitats and closer to human populations. This makes it easier for zoonotic diseases, diseases transmitted from non-human animals to humans like the COVID-19 coronavirus, to be transferred. ‘Deforestation has increased steadily over the past two decades and is linked to 31% of outbreaks such as Ebola, and the Zika and Nipah viruses,’ the WEF reported.

Image by Saskia Taylor

The negative impacts of climate change have also changed and accelerated the transmission of certain infectious diseases, such as the Zika virus, malaria and dengue fever. Populations forced to move and arrange makeshift shelters and with limited resources and infrastructure are also vulnerable to biological threats such as acute respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases.

It’s worth noting too, how the poor can often be the worst affected by these outbreaks for their quality of life and living conditions and their access to the necessary medical treatment.

Climate change is perhaps easier to get to grips with, but not everyone will appreciate the value of the planet’s biodiversity and the continued need to protect natural spaces.

Increased biodiversity means that a the core genetic material of a species might be more adaptable and able to overcome certain local environmental pressures. Beyond the genes, the way they are expressed and present in plants and flowers or an animal will also differ slightly, meaning that it may be able to withstand or be more adaptable against changes within its environment or inherent problems that afflict the species. An example of this could be the way certain large breeds of dogs are prone to hip dysplasia; offspring which aren’t purebred may not suffer the same maladies or to the same degree.

Species diversity can make ecosystems stronger as different resources are shared more widely. Diverse ecosystems may also be more resilient when affected by stresses to the environment. Whole populations won’t be wiped out or diminished when threats arise, and populations can recuperate without the entire ecosystem suffering. To bring it back home, with more variables in the mix, viral strains, their environments and vectors for transmitting diseases could be slowed down and limited.

It may not be very obvious or seem to affect our everyday lives, but it’s well worth protecting our biodiversity and natural flora and fauna and the huge role they can play in necessary functions, as well as the spread of disease and pandemics.

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