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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora