Ecosystem alteration linked to human health risks

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Across the globe, there are signs that human activity is causing changes to Earth’s natural systems that may result in risks to health—from Indonesia, where fires used to clear land have been linked to cardiopulmonary disease downwind in Singapore, to the U.S., where the rise in Lyme disease has followed a reduction in mammalian diversity resulting in increased exposure to animals most effective at spreading the disease.

To address this growing concern, Samuel Myers, a research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and colleagues in the HEAL (Health & Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages) consortium propose a new environmental health research framework focusing on the health effects of ecosystem alteration. Such an effort could provide critical scientific evidence to inform policymaking in land use, conservation, and public health, according to the authors.

Their perspective paper was published November 12, 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Human activity is affecting nearly all of the Earth’s natural systems—altering the planet’s land cover, rivers and oceans, climate, and the full range of complex ecological relationships and biogeochemical cycles that have long sustained life on Earth,” said Myers. “These changes and their effects put in question the ability of the planet to provide for a human population now exceeding 7 billion with an exponentially growing demand for goods and services.”