Deforestation and disease

10 09 2008

Humans have such a short memory…

A recent theme in many of my posts is the concept of ecosystem services provided to us essentially free of charge, and their continued degradation due to the burgeoning human population, bad land management and excessive resource consumption. We are indeed degrading the very life-support system species assemblages provide us. I’ve previously posted a long list of ecosystem services that you can consult here, but this recent paper in BioScience highlights one that is probably largely overlooked – the role of forests in reducing the incidence of human disease.

In their article entitled Deforestation, mosquitoes, and Ancient Rome: lessons for today, Lara O’Sullivan and colleagues discuss the evidence from Ancient Rome that deforestation rapidly increased the prevalence of malarial diseases. They also go on to cite several examples from the modern world where deforestation appears to be linked to greater manifestation of diseases like malaria.

The evidence isn’t just linked to Africa and the Amazon, but the authors suggest that the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases in Australia such as Ross River fever may also be on the rise as forests are quickly degraded and destroyed.

In two previous posts (see here and here), I commented on the escalating biodiversity crisis in the tropics driven largely by habitat loss (i.e., deforestation) – add increasing human disease to the long list of negatives associated with degrading or disappearing ecosystem services such as increased frequency and severity of floods, reduced food provision, reduced availability of clean water, reduced pollination, etc. We MUST educate the masses with the increasing body of scientific evidence that our behaviour is self-defeating (see previous post on this issue).

Indeed, it’s no longer the days of the capitalists versus the ‘greenies’ – the rapid decline in the quality of human life and and our own survival is affecting all of us, including the wealthy. In fact, I would argue that environmentalism has fully developed as the principal rationale in conservation ecology, such that it has become much less of an esoteric struggle for maintaining all things beautiful (the capitalist viewpoint of the traditional ‘greeny’), to a science-driven means to maintain human life and prosperity. Can we afford to continue along this path? Definitely not. Only an idiot with the foresight of a slug could ignore our current trajectory – and that includes the millionaire sport heroes, actors, and entrepreneurs who have benefited directly from our collective resource exploits. If you give a shit about the quality of life you and your descendants will have in the very near future, do not ignore habitat loss any longer.

CJA Bradshaw

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One response

8 10 2008
Corey Bradshaw

See related link on the implications of climate change for human health:

CJA Bradshaw


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