SUMMARY: This article looks at the concept that increasing biodiversity in an ecosystem can decrease the prevalence of diseases. While the idea seems simple (more hosts for the disease, less incidences of the disease spreading to people), the issue is much more complicated. The study points out that there are too many factors that we know too little about to accurately predict whether increasing biodiversity is the answer to reducing the spread of diseases. These factors include, but are not limited to: not knowing all the mechanisms for the spread of disease, not knowing all the organisms involved in the transmission of the disease, not taking into account the interaction of infected species with other species, not knowing if the relationships are causal or just correlation, and not knowing the exact influence of human behavior on transmission rates. It’s also difficult to say whether conservation of biodiversity would, in the end, contribute to more or less human well-being because one must take into account things like land use for crops (aka: growing food) and mental benefits of spending more time outside. The conclusion is basically, we need to know more.
LESSON COMMENTS: If ever you want to explain to students just how complicated ecology is, this would be the article to use. A lot of the ecology texts simplify many of the issues we currently face and provide simple solutions for students; however, this is not the case. The reason there is so much debate regarding conservation strategies is exactly the point that is addressed in this article: we simply don’t know enough about the ecosystem relationships to come up with a concrete, effective broad solution to all our ecological problems. A graphic organizer would be very useful in helping students see the complicated connections between the various hosts, vectors, and parasites mentioned in this article.
Kilpatrick, A. M., Salkeld, D. J., Titcomb, G., & Hahn, M. B. (2017). Conservation of biodiversity as a strategy for improving human health and well-being. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 372(1722), 20160131.