Ecosystem repair reduces the burden of human disease

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Philip Weinstein, Jessica Stanhope, Peter Speldewinde

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Hard scientific evidence has been accumulating for decades that interconnections between human health and ecosystem health are real, and that disruptions to the former have adverse effects on the latter. Serious and indisputable examples include: starvation from depletion of fish stocks; mortality from water-washed diseases and crop failures when land use and climate change create desertification; and biodiversity loss, with erosion of ecosystem services (including provision of food, water, fuel, and shelter; regulation of climate and disease suppression; and recreation and wellbeing). It is clear from observational studies that disrupting ecosystems and losing ecosystem services adversely affects the health of human populations, and scientists and policy developers have suggested that conservation and restoration will improve human health. What is lacking is field-based evidence of improved human health outcomes from ecosystem restoration: data from such intervention studies would provide stronger evidence to support the notion of causation, and provide a more powerful advocacy tool for investment in supporting ecosystem health and human health concurrently. A recent example of such a study is of malaria in Borneo, where infection rates decrease when native forest is restored. The bridge between environmental science and health is the study of ecological linkage mechanisms that support the biological plausibility of the relationship (See Figure 1); for malaria in Borneo, restoring biodiversity increases competition, predation, and dilution for malaria vector mosquitoes. With stronger evidence from such intervention studies, governments will be better positioned to control their burgeoning health budget by cross-disciplinary investment in ecosystem restoration.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program