Changes in land use may increase the risk of infectious disease

Global changes in land use is disrupting the balance of wild animals that carry infectious diseases, according to new research published today (August 5) in the journal Nature. 

Researchers from the University College London (UCL) looked at over 6,000 ecological communities across six components in order to assess the impact that disturbing land is having on animals that carry infectious diseases.

The evidence was sourced from a dataset of 184 studies incorporating almost 7,000 species, 376 of which are known to carry human-shared pathogens.

The researchers found that species which host zoonotic pathogens which can jump from animals to people were more frequent in human-influenced environments.

This suggests that disturbing land may be influencing both whether a species can tolerate humans and how likely it is to carry potentially zoonotic diseases.

While there are numerous factors that influence emergent disease risks, the researchers have said that these findings point to strategies which could help to mitigate the risk of further infectious disease outbreaks comparable to COVID-19.

Lead author of the study,  Rory Gibb said: ‘The way humans change landscapes across the world, from natural forest to farmland has consistent impacts on many wild animal species, causing some to decline while some others persist or increase.

‘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.’

Co-lead author Dr David Redding added: ‘Other studies have found that outbreaks of emerging zoonotic infectious diseases appear to be increasingly common – our findings may help to explain that pattern, by clarifying the underlying ecological change processes that are interacting to drive infection risks.’


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