The Earth's ecosystems have been altered by anthropogenic processes, including land use, harvesting populations, species introductions and climate change. These anthropogenic processes greatly alter plant and animal communities, thereby changing transmission of the zoonotic pathogens they carry. Biodiversity conservation may be a potential win–win strategy for maintaining ecosystem health and protecting public health, yet the causal evidence to support this strategy is limited. Evaluating conservation as a viable public health intervention requires answering four questions: (i) Is there a general and causal relationship between biodiversity and pathogen transmission, and if so, which direction is it in? (ii) Does increased pathogen diversity with increased host biodiversity result in an increase in total disease burden? (iii) Do the net benefits of biodiversity conservation to human well-being outweigh the benefits that biodiversity-degrading activities, such as agriculture and resource utilization, provide? (iv) Are biodiversity conservation interventions cost-effective when compared to other options employed in standard public health approaches? Here, we summarize current knowledge on biodiversity–zoonotic disease relationships and outline a research plan to address the gaps in our understanding for each of these four questions. Developing practical and self-sustaining biodiversity conservation interventions will require significant investment in disease ecology research to determine when and where they will be effective.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Conservation, biodiversity and infectious disease: scientific evidence and policy implications’.
One contribution of 13 to a theme issue ‘Conservation, biodiversity and infectious disease: scientific evidence and policy implications’.
- Accepted January 18, 2017.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.