Two of the most rapidly increasing threats to our planet’s biodiversity are land use change and climate change. The rapid shift to large-scale agricultural practices, urbanization, deforestation, and other land use practices are destroying wildlife habitat and fragmenting remaining populations. Climate change is having profound and growing impacts on temperature, rainfall, vegetation, soils, and water flow.
These rapid changes also bring a corresponding increase in the risk of disease. Land use change is leading to clear increases in pathogen movement and transmission. Shifts in temperature enable infectious agents to move northward and upward into mountains, while shifts in temperature and precipitation can cause previously benign agents to become pathogenic. A recent example of the latter is the bacterium Pasteurella multocida, which normally lives safely in saiga antelope tonsils. However it now appears that unusual weather events led to an outbreak that killed off over half the global saiga population in just a few weeks in the spring of 2015.
WCS is in the forefront of studies related to land use and climate change and the complex but growing evidence that these impacts are increasing the likelihood that disease will grow as a threat to wildlife and to humans. The LACANET project, of which WCS was a key partner, looked at the impacts of deforestation on emerging diseases in Cambodia, where forest cover has decreased dramatically in the past decade.
Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS