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Biodiversity & Health

December 27, 2010

Losing plant and animal species promotes the spread of some human diseases.


Sickening species losses…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Some infectious diseases may become bigger problems in the future, because we’re losing animals that protect humans from the diseases. This according to biologist Felicia Keesing of Bard College. Her team related the spread of Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and hantavirus to species and habitat loss in nearby forests.

The species that are present when diversity is high protect against transmission, and the species that are present when diversity is low tend to increase transmission.

For example, disturbed forests lose opossums, which rarely transmit Lyme disease bacteria to the ticks that feed on them. But they gain white-footed mice, which easily do. Keesing sees an emerging pattern, in which the tough species that survive ecological change also tend to be the big disease-carriers. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.