Biodiversity and human health: evidence for causality?

Abstract

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and other commentators have warned about the impacts that biodiversity decline will have on human health. There is no doubting that the natural world provides mankind with the majority of the resources required to sustain life and health. Many species provide food, fuel, medicines; with the potential for many more (as of yet) undiscovered uses for various species. Despite this, there have been very few attempts to actually investigate relationships between biodiversity (i.e. number of species, rather than the ability of specific species to provide health benefits) and human health. This paper reviews the available evidence and demonstrates that while the links between biodiversity and health seem intuitive, they are very difficult to prove. Socio-economics has a huge influence on health status and the exploitation of natural resources (leading to eventual biodiversity loss) tends to have a positive economic effects. More direct effects of biodiversity on health include the diversity of the internal microbiome, the effect of natural diversity on our mental health and well-being (although this has large social aspects with many people feeling fearful in very diverse environments). Still to be elucidated are the tipping points where the level of global biodiversity loss is such that human health can no longer be sustained.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) under their Strategic Programme on Environmental Change: Ecosystem Services; Theme 1: Scotland’s environmental assets, biodiversity and ecosystem services are identified and valued to inform decision making.

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Correspondence to Rupert Lloyd Hough.

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Hough, R.L. Biodiversity and human health: evidence for causality?. Biodivers Conserv 23, 267–288 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-013-0614-1

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Keywords

  • Ecosystem services
  • Disease regulation
  • Dilution effect
  • Microbiome
  • Quality of life