Biodiversity and Human Health
“There are worlds within worlds…Everything in our world is connected by the delicate strands of the web of life, which is a balance between the forces of destruction and the magical forces of creation.” -Magi, “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.”
This quote comes from an animated kids’ movie from 1992 with an environmental message delivered through humor, some songs, and whimsical characters. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick summary: The fairies in the movie live in harmony with nature and have a magical connection to the forest. A logging company brings destruction to their home, and releases an evil being that feeds off pollution. Fast forward to the end of the movie and the rainforest is saved, the main human character has learned his lesson after spending time with the fairies and goes back out into the world with a new perspective. The difference between this fantasy and reality is that the forest is not always saved in the end.
Magi’s philosophical statement is relevant to this month’s blog topic of biodiversity (with fantasy magic added). In more science-based terminology, the Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as, “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems,” To give an idea of how incredibly diverse life on our planet is, scientists estimate that there are 8.7 million plant and animal species on Earth, but that only 1.2 million have been identified! On a smaller scale, we can talk about biodiversity of a particular ecosystem or area. For example, did you know that Georgia is a “hotspot” of biodiversity for turtles and tortoises? (You can read more about Zoo Atlanta’s support of a diamondback terrapin conservation project here and the exciting news of a critically endangered bog turtle hatching here).
Biodiversity is often overlooked when we think about human health, but ensuring that the diversity of life on Earth continues to thrive is critical to our own survival. Here are just a few examples of the many impacts that biodiversity and human health are interconnected.
- Our food supply relies on biodiversity. One example of this is our dependence on pollinators. Pollinators are needed to grow 1/3 of food for humans worldwide.
- Traditional medicines and medical research require specific plants.
- Freshwater to drink is one of the most basic of human needs, and pollution and the creation of dams and reservoirs have led to limited or no access to clean drinking water in some places, in addition to the impacts on wildlife habitats.
- Our bodies are ecosystems in themselves! We have microbiota on both the inside and outside of our bodies. Some of these microbiota are picked up from our natural environment, and we need them to build a healthy immune system. Less exposure to
- the outdoors and nature can lead to less exposure to these microbiota, which can lead to increased likelihood of disease.
- One result of habitat destruction is that humans are having more contact with wildlife, which increases the opportunity of zoonotic disease transmission passed from wild animals to humans or domestic animals.
- Wildlife trade of animals for pets, food, their parts to be used in luxury items, status symbols, or medicines, threatens wildlife populations while also creating another opportunity for zoonotic disease transmission.
We can all help preserve biodiversity which will benefit wildlife but also our health on an individual, community, and global level. Here are a few ideas:
- Reducing red meat consumption reduces the size of your carbon footprint and helps lower the risk of heart disease.
- Support the creation of and participate in maintaining green spaces in urban areas so that humans can have access to the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature. This can also provide habitats for wildlife. Contributing to a community garden, volunteering with local parks, or organizing litter clean-ups are a few ways to start.
- Grow native plants in your yard to support the endemic wildlife that are dependent on them.
- Take precautions to avoid pets having contact with wildlife.
While we may not have the magic of an animated kids’ movie, what we do each day makes impacts that send a ripple effect through ecosystems, and in turn, our own health and well-being.
Manager of Public Programs
Biodiversity. National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2022, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/biodiversity
CBD, & WHO (Eds.). (2015). Connecting global priorities: biodiversity and human health: a state of knowledge review. Retrieved September 7, 2022, from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241508537
Lipton, G. (2020, October 29). Biodiversity’s role in one health approach has been minimal – until now. Landscape News. Retrieved September 7, 2022, from https://news.globallandscapesforum.org/48043/biodiversitys-role-in-one-health-approach-has-been-minimal-until-now/
What is biodiversity? why is it important?: AMNH. American Museum of Natural History. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2022, from https://www.amnh.org/research/center-for-biodiversity-conservation/what-is-biodiversity