Links between ecological integrity, emerging infectious diseases originating from wildlife, and other aspects of human health - an overview of the literature – WCS

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic there is heightened public interest in the risk factors that lead to such events. The commercial wildlife trade and associated commercial wildlife markets for human consumption have been widely recognized as a major risk factor, and are the subject of a WCS policy brief focused specifically on that topic1. The current report looks at the broader issues of ecosystem integrity and ecosystem degradation. The degradation of ecosystems is often linked to the commercial wildlife trade but also results in various other processes that affect zoonotic disease transmission.

 

The report contains an overview of the literature linking declines in the integrity of ecosystems to the risk of emerging infectious disease outbreaks that originate in wildlife, and also touches briefly on other impacts on human health. Four key findings are identified, as follows:

  1. Degradation has significantly altered ecological systems worldwide and continues to expand into new areas.
  2. The majority of emerging infectious disease2 threats are zoonotic, originate from wildlife, and often cause major social and economic impacts.
  3. Ecological degradation increases the overall risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks originating from wildlife.
  4. This relationship has been shown for multiple individual diseases, in regional and global multi-disease studies, and in theoretical models, although the proportion of cases of degradation that lead to substantially increased risk is not well understood.
  5. The increased risk results from multiple interacting pathways including increased human contact with pathogens and disruption in pathogen ecology.
  6. The key “ingredients” that accentuate the risk of an emerging infectious disease spillover event are activities (e.g., land conversion, creation of new habitat edges, wildlife trade and consumption, agricultural intensification) in or linked to areas of high biodiversity that elevate contact rates between humans and certain wildlife species.
  7. Degradation of ecosystems also has complex effects, feedback loops, and some notable negative impacts on many other aspects of human health, including: the prevalence of endemic zoonotic diseases, the prevalence of vector-borne and water-borne diseases; air quality; nutrition; mental health; and access to traditional medicines; as well as effects on human health through the impacts of climate change. These all in turn can contribute to local and transnational conflicts over natural resources and undermine local and international security.

 

Please download the Document here below:

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