News / Africa

    Human Health Depends on Biodiversity

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Joe DeCapua

    There’s a good reason why people should be concerned about having a healthy environment containing lots of animal and plant species. A new study says the loss of biodiversity may make humans more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

    Biodiversity is one of the ways to measure the health of an eco-system.   And the healthier an eco-system is, the better off we are.  That’s because animals, plants and even microbes can act as a buffer between people and pathogens.

    Associate Professor Felicia Keesing, an ecologist at Bard College in Annandale, New York, is the lead author of the study.

    “Biodiversity is the diversity of genes, species and eco-systems that occupy the earth.  Most of the time when we talk about biodiversity, we mean the diversity of species,” she says.

    Keesing says the study adds a new reason to protect the environment.

    “People have always recognized that there’s some sort of esthetic value in having all of these different creatures living on earth with us.  Many people feel that there’s an ethical responsibility to protect them.  But in the last couple of decades, scientists have begun to document ways in which biodiversity is actually providing services to us.  Such services become practical reasons for protecting biodiversity as well,” she says.

    It’s long been known that biodiversity helps provide clean water, cycles nutrients through the eco-system, and absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.  But Keesing says the fact that biodiversity protects humans from disease is a compelling reason for conservation.

    Sucking up pathogens

    Keesing says, “What we’ve seen over and over again in different studies that we describe in our paper is that in diverse systems the species that are present either reduce the number of disease bearing organisms by competing with them.  Or they suck up pathogens, sort of vacuum up pathogens, and then don’t transmit them again.”

    That protection suffers as biodiversity is lost.  Keesing says one example is Lyme Disease, which is a common tick-borne bacterial illness in the United States.

    “If you have a low diversity system, the species that are present always include white footed mice.  And white footed mice are very, very good at transmitting the Lyme bacterium back out so that humans are at risk,” she says.

    Eco-systems under attack

    Biodiversity faces many threats all over the world.  The biggest, she says, is land conversion.

    “We’re destroying habitats,” she says, “So there are fewer places for organisms to live.  But there are also a lot of other threats.  The key ones are also climate change.  So as the climate changes species are struggling and in some cases going extinct because they can’t adapt quickly enough – or they have nowhere to go that has the appropriate environmental conditions.”

    Other threats to biodiversity include the spread of invasive species of plants and animals, as well as overhunting or overharvesting of species.

    “In many ways, the biggest threat is that all of these things are happening at the same time and interacting with each other,” she says.

    Keesing rejects the idea that the loss of biodiversity is simply a matter of survival of the fittest, with humans being the most fit.

    “Our survival,” she says, “is actually linked to the survival of these other species.  So, neither our short term nor our long term survival prospects are increased because we’re destroying other species.”

    Scientists are also considering what a loss of biodiversity means for such diseases as Ebola in Africa.  In other words, could it mean the disease could become more common and spread to new areas if there’s a weak biodiversity buffer?

    The Bard College associate professor says the effects of biodiversity loss are so clear, there’s no reason to delay protecting the Earth’s eco-systems.

    You May Like

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese Americans for Trump Going Against National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese Americans for Trump Going Against National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora