Study shows link between biodiversity loss and the thriving of species that pass on zoonotic infections.
Among the factors contributing to the risks of pandemics like Covid-19 is anthropogenic change to biodiversity, occurring largely due to habitat loss from human settlement. A study involving 6,800 ecological communities on six continents shows that human developmental work at the frontiers of human habitation is causing a decline in biodiversity—while causing a few species that have better adapted to sharing habitats with human to replace many. These species—bats, rats, monkeys—are also strong sources of zoonotic transmission of deadly pathogens.
The researchers compiled over 3.2 million records from several hundred ecological studies, as reported by Nature, and found that populations of species that host pathogens that can be transmitted to humans—including 143 mammals—exploded as patches of forests/pristine nature turned human-populated, and eventually urban, and biodiversity, including populations of natural predators of these species, dwindled. They listed 20,382 associations between 3,883 vertebrate host species and 5,694 pathogens; not all of these can infect humans as well, though.
Previous research shows an increasing incidence of zoonotic diseases over the past few decades, possibly due to increased interaction among humans and the animal reservoirs/vectors of these pathogens. Indeed, rodents have spread over landscapes where there has been large-scale loss of biodiversity, causing a rise in the concentration of pathogens responsible for Chagas disease, hantaviral disease, etc. Unless urgent action is taken to limit biodiversity losses, brace for more Covid-19-like pandemics.