Conservation Medicine: Ecological Health in Practice

By A. Alonso Aguirre; Richard S. Ostfeld et al. | Go to book overview

4
Biodiversity, Climate Change, and
Emerging Infectious Diseases
Paul R. Epstein
There are multiple biological symptoms of global change, including amphibian declines on six continents, a decline in pollinators, the proliferation of harmful algal blooms along coastlines worldwide, and emerging infectious diseases across a wide taxonomic spectrum. There are also multiple social, ecological, and global factors underlying these symptoms (Levins et al. 1994; Morse 1996). There are multiple plausible mechanisms and pathways by which these social and environmental factors are altering biodiversity and influencing the emergence of infectious diseases. In general, declining biodiversity and the effects of climate change on habitat and biodiversity can decouple important biological control systems limiting emergence and spread of pests and pathogens (Walker 1994). The pathways and mechanisms include the following:
1. Monocultures and habitat simplification increase the potential for disease spread among agricultural crops and forest plants.
2. Habitat loss and human penetration into disrupted wilderness areas can bring humans in contact with previously “isolated” pathogens.
3. Declines in predators can release prey from natural biological controls, and small prey can become pests and carriers of pathogens.
4. Loss of competitors (which carry pathogens less efficiently than primary animal hosts) can remove these buffers against pathogen abundance and spread.
5. Dominance of generalists over specialists, especially among avian populations, may increase pathogen levels (in the more tolerant generalists) and increase their spread.

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