There is a lot in the media these days about how protecting biodiversity reduces the risk of zoonotic disease spillover, and hence the risk of epidemics and pandemics. There seems to be a lot of good evidence for this in published studies on the topic, but how universal is such a conclusion? What is the science behind it? What about context? Are there exceptions to the rule?
Dan Salkeld is a disease ecologist, and professor at Colorado State University. He has been addressing this topic in the literature for years, and shares some of his conclusions with us. We also talk a little more broadly about the trend, in the literature, towards making generic causal links, when the sum of the data show correlations of varying strength, and include exceptions.
Links to resources:
Ecological Fallacy and Aggregated Data: A Case Study of Fried Chicken Restaurants, Obesity and Lyme Disease - A 2020 paper by Dan, and Michael Antolin, about how easily correlations can be drawn from data
Conservation of biodiversity as a strategy for improving human health and well-being - A 2017 paper by Dan and colleagues summarizing current knowledge on biodiversity–zoonotic disease relationships and outlining a research plan to address the gaps in our understanding
Interacting effects of land use and climate on rodent-borne pathogens in central Kenya - A 2017 paper to which Dan contributed, which expresses the complexity of the roles of different drivers of spillover risk
Public health perspective on patterns of biodiversity and zoonotic disease - A 2015 letter to PNAS in which Dan responds to an article by Civitello et al. (2015), and warns against hasty conclusions
Biodiversity inhibits parasites: Broad evidence for the dilution effect - The article in PNAS to which Dan responded
Parasite biodiversity faces extinction and redistribution in a changing climate - A paper I mentioned in the discussion, about how parasite diversity is expected to decrease more than the diversity of hosts, if habitat changes as a result of climate change.