Land use change including deforestation for agriculture may increase the risk of future pandemics caused by diseases originating in animal hosts, a new study has found.
The findings, published in science journal Nature, found global changes in land use are disrupting the balance of wild animal communities, and benefiting species carrying diseases known to infect humans.
Land use change is already the major contributor of biodiversity loss and climate change, due to deforestation, but the new study provides evidence of a further impact on human health.
Researchers from UCL in London led the study, which studied almost 7,000 ecological communities across six continents, and found that that animals known to carry pathogens that can infect humans were more common in landscapes intensively used by people.
“The way humans change landscapes across the world, from natural forest to farmland for example, has consistent impacts on many wild animal species, causing some to decline while some others persist or increase,” said lead author Rory Gibb, of the UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research.
“Our findings show that the animals that remain in more human-dominated environments are those that are more likely to carry infectious diseases that can make people sick,” he added.
Co-author Dr David Redding said: “Our findings provide a context for thinking about how to manage land use changes more sustainably, in ways that take into account potential risks not only to biodiversity, but also to human health.”
It comes as the latest programme fronted by nature titan David Attenborough, Extinction: The Facts, linked rampant destruction of natural habitats for agricultural purposes to the desire for endless choice and year-round availability of some foods.
This article was initially published in the Autumn issue of Wicked Leeks. You can read the full magazine for free on Issuu.