Plant and animal extinctions are detrimental to your health. Felicia Keesing, from Bard College (New York, USA), and colleagues from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ecology of Infectious Diseases (EID) Program report that species loss in ecosystems such as forests and fields results in increases in pathogens, or disease-causing organisms. Finding that the species most likely to disappear as biodiversity declines are often those that buffer infectious disease transmission, whereas those that remain tend to be the ones that magnify the transmission of infectious diseases like West Nile virus, Lyme disease and hantavirus, the team observes that global biodiversity has declined at an unprecedented pace since the 1950s. Current extinction rates are estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than in past epochs, and are projected to rise dramatically in the next 50 years. The researchers urge that preservation of natural habitats is the best way to ensure biodiversity, concluding that: “Current evidence indicates that preserving intact ecosystems and their endemic biodiversity should generally reduce the prevalence of infectious diseases.”
Felicia Keesing, Lisa K. Belden, Peter Daszak, Andrew Dobson, C. Drew Harvell, Robert D. Holt, Peter Hudson, Anna Jolles, Kate E. Jones, Charles E. Mitchell, et al. “Impacts of biodiversity on the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases.” Nature 468, 647-652, 1 December 2010; doi:10.1038/nature09575.
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