Biodiversity and the Pandemic
and how diminishing biodiversity could cause more pandemics…
Biodiversity is the variety of all life forms and their interactions on the Earth’s surface. Ranging from vibrant fishes in blue ocean waters to the miniscule microbes that surround us. Altogether their interactions are what contribute to a healthy planet and ecosystem.
Unhealthy interactions within biodiversity lead to a collapse in ecosystems. Sometimes even within economies. An obvious example would be bees. Without them to pollinate plants there wouldn’t be any fruits or nuts.
But a better case in point would be the Covid pandemic.
The Covid-19 virus is an example of a zoonotic virus. A zoonotic virus is an infection that has been transmitted from an animal species to humans. Today about 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in origin.
How does human activity affect the spread of zoonotic viruses?
Fact check, we’ve been disrupting biodiversity and our ecosystems for years. Through activities like deforestation, urbanisation, depletion of resources and…this list can go on and on.
When we clear forests around the world for agriculture or infrastructure, we increase the risk of encountering new pathogens. This is especially true in biodiversity hotspots like tropical forests. They not only have a large number of creatures we can see with the naked eye but also have far more microorganisms.
Here’s where the dilution effect comes in. In the dilution effect, higher the biodiversity in an area, the lesser the prevalence of an infectious disease.
When we reduce that biodiversity, we often also create a monoculture of organisms. This in turn increases the possibility of animals there becoming transmitters of disease instead. This is because a more diverse community among organisms results in lesser interspecific interactions as opposed to less diverse communities.
Thus, when wild animals are pushed out of forests it becomes likely that diseases can pass onto domestic animals or humans. Animals like rats or mosquitoes live in disrupted ecosystems. These animals in turn, can act as vectors for new illnesses. Combined with the fact that our world is warming due to climate change, this only increases the hospitality for zoonotic diseases.
The biggest causes of zoonotic diseases, today, are those of climate change, deforestation and livestock agriculture. And mosquito borne diseases like dengue and malaria have seen a worldwide increase over the past 30 years. These numbers are probably going to keep increasing.
Scientists have warned of possible pandemics for decades. But, it’s now, that the world is dealing with a pandemic. And so, it’s only now that efforts to map and project where diseases are likely to emerge, have risen.
To stop further outbreaks, biodiversity loss and destruction of habitat needs to stop. A healthy ecosystem protects us from diseases. And a higher diversity of species makes it difficult for pathogens to spread.
We need to rebuild our lives and economies by working with nature, not against it.
We need to start appreciating the vital role of the health of our planet. And we need to increase immediate action when it comes to conserving nature.
Healthy populations of species are important for natural services. These include pollination, photosynthesis or insect pest control. Problems only arise when their ecosystems are thrown out of balance.
Today, we don’t know a whole lot about zoonotic diseases. And there is a lot more scientific research needed. But we do know that healthy ecosystems help reduce the risk of exposing ourselves to new zoonotic diseases.
If we do start taking action now, perhaps we could help prevent the next pandemic.