Article image

Healthy ecosystems are needed to prevent future pandemics

A new study from CABI reports that healthy ecosystems are vital in reducing the risk of future deadly pandemics like COVID-19. According to the experts, pandemic prevention requires that human health be regarded as an “ecological service.” They are calling for new frameworks to recognize that protected area managers are on the front lines of public health safety.

The researchers explained that land use changes drive the emergence and spread of pathogens that infect both wildlife and people with severe consequences for the health of the  environment, humans, and animals.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, demonstrates society’s inability to respond it a timely manner to novel pathogens. The result is mass human suffering and mortality, bringing substantial moral, ethical and economic dilemmas,” wrote the study authors.

“Protected and conserved areas are the most widely used approaches to securing species and ecological integrity, they have a crucial role to play in safeguarding public health.”

“From our perspective, a ‘healthy’ ecosystem is one in which wildlife-pathogen interactions are in balance, wildlife are not overly stressed or concentrated together by land use-induced changes.”

The scientists noted that the removal of invasive plant species, which support populations of infectious pathogens, can help to boost the health of ecosystems. 

“In Mauritius, for example, invasive alien plants have reduced the habitat quality of the Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger), resulting in increased foraging in agricultural lands and urban environments,” said Dr. Witt.

“Krivek et al. showed that non-native plant invasions reduced native fruit production and that weeded forests provide a better habitat for flying foxes. They conclude that their study lends support to invasive alien plant control as a management strategy in mitigating human-wildlife conflicts.”

Study lead author Dr. Jamie K. Reaser and her team have proposed several other proactive measures that could help to prevent pandemics, such as monitoring the occurrence of pathogens and diseases in animal or human populations. 

“Nations can no longer treat conservation as a second order priority. COVID-19 shows that we should now recognize that protected areas are at the frontline of public health infrastructure and that their managers are vital to disease prevention,” concluded the researchers. “Looking ahead, we have to conserve nature as if our lives depended on it.”

The study is published in the journal Parks.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day