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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid