WCS Issues Report on Links Between Ecological Integrity and Human Health

May 22, 2020

New York, May 22, 2020 – Ecological degradation increases the overall risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks originating from wildlife, illustrates a new Wildlife Conservation Society report.

The report contains an overview of the literature linking the two and also touches briefly on other impacts on human health. Four key findings are identified, as follows:

  1. Degradation has significantly altered ecological systems worldwide and continues to expand into new areas.
  2. The majority of emerging infectious disease threats are zoonotic, originate from wildlife, and often cause major social and economic impacts.
  3. Ecological degradation increases the overall risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks originating from wildlife.
    • This relationship has been shown for multiple individual diseases, in regional and global multi-disease studies, and in theoretical models, although the proportion of cases of degradation that lead to substantially increased risk is not well understood.
    • The increased risk results from multiple interacting pathways including increased human contact with pathogens and disruption in pathogen ecology.
    • The key “ingredients” that accentuate the risk of an emerging infectious disease spillover event are activities (e.g., land conversion, creation of new habitat edges, wildlife trade and consumption, agricultural intensification) in or linked to areas of high biodiversity that elevate contact rates between humans and certain wildlife species.
  4. Degradation of ecosystems also has complex effects, feedback loops, and some notable negative impacts on many other aspects of human health, including: the prevalence of endemic zoonotic diseases, the prevalence of vector-borne and water-borne diseases; air quality; nutrition; mental health; and access to traditional medicines; as well as effects on human health through the impacts of climate change. These all in turn can contribute to local and transnational conflicts over natural resources and undermine local and international security.

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