Study: Biodeversity loss ups disease risk

Dec. 2, 2010 at 9:16 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Plant and animal extinctions are not just a biodiversity problem but a threat to health, a U.S. study linking biodiversity and infectious diseases says.

Research funded by the National Science Foundation suggests species loss in ecosystems such as forests and fields results in increases in pathogens, disease-causing organisms, an NSF release said Wednesday.

The species most likely to disappear as biodiversity declines are often those that buffer infectious disease transmission, researchers said

Species that remain tend to be the ones that magnify the transmission of infectious diseases like West Nile virus, Lyme disease and hantavirus, they said.

"We knew of specific cases like West Nile virus and hantavirus in which declines in biodiversity increase the incidence of disease," said study author Felicia Keesing, an ecologist at Bard College in Annandale, N.Y.

"But we've learned that the pattern is much more general: Biodiversity loss tends to increase pathogen transmission and infectious disease."

"Global change is accelerating, bringing with it a host of unintended consequences," said Sam Scheiner, director of the Ecology of Infectious Diseases program for the NSF. "This paper demonstrates the dangers of global change, showing that species extinctions may lead to increases in disease incidence for humans, other animals and plants."

"When a clinical trial of a drug shows that it works," Keesing said, "the trial is halted so the drug can be made available.

"In a similar way, the protective effect of biodiversity is clear enough that we need to begin implementing policies to preserve it now."

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