Study highlights importance of biodiversity to human health – ScienceDaily


Dozens of frog species, salamanders and other amphibians quietly disappeared from parts of Latin America in the 1980s and 2000s, with little notice from humans, outside a small group of ecologists. However, the decline of amphibians has had direct health consequences for people, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

The study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, He links the death of amphibians in Costa Rica and Panama to the rise in malaria cases in the region. The study found that at peak altitude, up to 1 person in 1,000 develops malaria annually which would not normally have been resolved without the death of amphibians.

“Stable ecosystems support all kinds of aspects of human well-being, including the regulation of processes important to disease prevention and health,” said lead author Michael Springborn, professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis. “If we allow significant disruptions to the ecosystem, they can dramatically affect human health in ways that are difficult to predict in advance and difficult to control once they occur.”

natural experience

From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, a deadly fungal pathogen called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or “Bd,” traveled through Costa Rica, destroying amphibian populations. This amphibian chytrid mushroom continued its path east through Panama through the 2000s. Globally, the pathogen has led to the extinction of at least 90 amphibian species, and the decline of at least 500 additional species.

Shortly after the mass deaths of amphibians in Costa Rica and Panama, both countries experienced a sharp rise in malaria cases.

Some frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians eat hundreds of mosquito eggs every day. Mosquitoes are carriers of malaria. Scientists wondered, did the decline of amphibians have an effect on the rise in malaria cases?

To find out, the researchers combined their knowledge of amphibian ecology, newly digitized Public Health Register data, and data analysis methods developed by economists to take advantage of this natural experiment.

“We’ve known for some time that complex interactions exist between ecosystems and human health, but measuring these interactions is still very difficult,” said co-author Joakim Weill, PhD. candidate at the University of California, Davis when the study was conducted. “We got there by integrating tools and data that don’t usually get along. I didn’t know what herpetologists had studied before collaborating with one!”

The results show a clear relationship between the time and location of the spread of the fungal pathogen and the time and location of increases in malaria cases. The scientists noted that while they could not completely rule out another confounding factor, they found no evidence for other variables that can lead to malaria and follow the same pattern of deaths.

The loss of tree cover was also associated with an increase in malaria cases, but not nearly to the same extent as the loss of amphibians. Typical levels of tree canopy loss increase annual malaria cases by up to 0.12 cases per 1,000 people, compared to one in 1,000 amphibian deaths.

commercial threats

The researchers were motivated to conduct the study by concerns about the future spread of similar diseases through international trade in wildlife. for example, Batrachochytrieum salamandrivoransor “Bsal” likewise threatens to invade ecosystems through global trade markets.

Springbourne said actions that can help prevent the spread of pathogens to wildlife include updating commercial regulations to better target species that host such diseases as our knowledge of the threats evolves.

“The costs of putting those safeguards in place are immediate and clear, but the long-term benefits of avoiding ecosystem disruptions like this are difficult to assess but potentially huge, as this paper shows,” Springborn said.

Other co-authors include Karen Lips of the University of Maryland, Roberto Ibanez of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, Aniruda Ghosh of the University of California at Davis, the International Biodiversity Alliance and CIAT in Kenya.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the UC Davis Institute for the Environment.



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