A new study led by Harvard Medical School researcher Matthew Bonds is linking an environment’s biodiversity and public health, namely its susceptibility to the spread of disease. Bonds found that countries with decreased biodiversity “will have a heavier burden of vector-borne and parasitic diseases,” an assertion which has drastic implications for public health systems worldwide.
Previously, some might have suggested that a lack of funding is the biggest roadblock to protecting people from pathogens. These new findings indicate that governments may be well-served in their quests for healthy citizens by protecting natural ecosystems. Bonds explains that “the more organisms you have out there, the more things there are that can interrupt the life cycle of disease, and the less concentration you’ll have of any vector.” When humans urbanize an area, many species are forced out of their natural habitats and end up dying off in large numbers. Pests and other disease-carrying creatures breed freely, resulting in a much greater risk of exposure for humans.
The United Nations estimates that one out of every three species on Earth faces extinction. Bonds uses this statistic to demonstrate how a country like Indonesia faces a grave threat from losing its biodiversity: given a 15% decline in this metric, the country would face a 30% larger disease burden. By elucidating biodiversity’s link to public health, Bonds demonstrates yet another area in which undamaged ecosystems provide major benefits to humans who can exist alongside natural cycles, instead of in place of them.
– Jake Simon