Culture

Wildlife Diversity Key to Limiting Future Pandemics

We need to learn from the Covid19 pandemic. If we continue with the ‘back to normal’ mantra of politicians then this pandemic will certainly not be our last.

“The next emerging pathogen is far more likely to come from a rat than a rhino.” CARY INSTITUTE OF ECOSYSTEM STUDIES

Rodents, bats, primates, cloven-hooved mammals like sheep and deer, and carnivores have been flagged as the mammal taxa most likely to transmit pathogens to humans.

This is because animals with fast life histories tend to be more efficient at transmitting pathogens.

Researcher Felicia Keesing explained:

“Animals that live fast, die young, and have early sexual maturity with lots of offspring tend to invest less in their adaptive immune responses. They are often better at transmitting diseases, compared to longer-lived animals with stronger adaptive immunity.”

When land is developed and fragmented, species that are more efficient at spreading zoonotic diseases tend to proliferate. Credit:Cary Institute Photo Archive

When biodiversity is lost from ecological communities, long-lived, larger-bodied species tend to disappear first, while smaller-bodied species with fast life histories tend to proliferate.

Research has found that mammal hosts of zoonotic viruses are less likely to be species of conservation concern (i.e. they are more common), and that for both mammals and birds, human development tends to increase the abundance of zoonotic host species, bringing people and risky animals closer together.

Disease ecologist Rick Ostfeld said:

“When we erode biodiversity, we favour species that are more likely to be zoonotic hosts, increasing our risk of spillover events.

“Managing this risk will require a better understanding of how things like habitat conversion, climate change, and overharvesting affect zoonotic hosts, and how restoring biodiversity to degraded areas might reduce their abundance.

“We should stop assuming that there is a single animal source for each emerging pathogen. The pathogens that jump from animals to people tend to be found in many animal species, not just one. They’re jumpers, after all, and they typically move between species readily.”

Felicia Keesing added:

“Restoration of biodiversity is an important frontier in the management of zoonotic disease risk. Those pathogens that do spill over to infect humans–zoonotic pathogens–often proliferate as a result of human impacts.

“As we rebuild our communities after COVID-19, we need to have firmly in mind that one of our best strategies to prevent future pandemics is to protect, preserve, and restore biodiversity.”

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