Land-Use Change Alters Host and Vector Communities and May Elevate Disease Risk

Abstract

Land-use change has transformed most of the planet. Concurrently, recent outbreaks of various emerging infectious diseases have raised great attention to the health consequences of anthropogenic environmental degradation. Here, we assessed the global impacts of habitat conversion and other land-use changes on community structures of infectious disease hosts and vectors, using a meta-analysis of 37 studies. From 331 pairwise comparisons of disease hosts/vectors in pristine (undisturbed) and disturbed areas, we found a decrease in species diversity but an increase in body size associated with land-use changes, potentially suggesting higher risk of infectious disease transmission in disturbed habitats. Neither host nor vector abundance, however, changed significantly following disturbance. When grouped by subcategories like disturbance type, taxonomic group, pathogen type and region, changes in host/vector community composition varied considerably. Fragmentation and agriculture in particular benefit host and vector communities and therefore might elevate disease risk. Our results indicate that while habitat disturbance could alter disease host/vector communities in ways that exacerbate pathogen prevalence, the relationship is highly context-dependent and influenced by multiple factors.

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Acknowledgements

We thank several anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback on the manuscript. Research was supported by the Seed Funding Programme for Basic Research from the University of Hong Kong. We declare no competing interests for this project.

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Correspondence to Luke Gibson.

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Guo, F., Bonebrake, T.C. & Gibson, L. Land-Use Change Alters Host and Vector Communities and May Elevate Disease Risk. EcoHealth 16, 647–658 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-018-1336-3

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Keywords

  • biodiversity
  • deforestation
  • land-use change
  • dilution effect
  • disease
  • habitat loss