Study: Deadly Diseases From Wildlife Thrive When Nature Is Destroyed

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Analysis shows rats and bats that host pandemic pathogens like COVID-19 increase in damaged ecosystems.

Human destruction of natural ecosystems increases the number of animals harboring diseases that can lead to pandemics, a comprehensive study, published in Nature, found.

  • The analysis incorporated almost 7,000 animal communities on six continents, finding that converting wild regions into farmland or settlements usually eliminates larger species.
  • Species like rodents and bats are small, mobile, adaptable, and produce many offspring, making them able to thrive in damaged ecosystems and host pathogens that can be passed to humans. For example, the brown rat has large amounts of offspring and a low survival rate, as they invest little in their immune system strength. 
  • Populations of animals hosting “zoonotic diseases” were up to 2.5 times bigger in degraded areas, and the proportion of pathogen-carrying species increased by up to 70 percent, compared to intact ecosystems.
  • The United Nations and World Health Organization warn that the world must address the causes of global diseases coming from these animals: namely, the destruction of nature.
  • Leading biodiversity experts said that even more deadly disease outbreaks were likely unless nature is protected. 
  • This is the first study to show how the destruction of the wild leads to changes in animal populations that increase risk of pandemic. Disease surveillance and healthcare are necessary in the areas with destroyed ecosystems.
  • A report estimated that only 2 percent of the costs of the COVID-19 crisis would be needed to help prevent pandemics for a decade.

Read the full report.


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