Valdosta Daily Times

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August 1, 2013

As climate, disease links become clearer, study highlights need to forecast future shifts

(Continued)

ATHENS — “Climate warming in the Arctic is occurring more rapidly than elsewhere, threatening the health and sustainability of Arctic plants and animals, which are adapted to a harsh and highly seasonal environment and are vulnerable to invasions by ‘southern’ species—both animals and parasites.”

A changing climate also is affecting entire plant and animal communities. This is particularly evident in tropical marine environments such as the world’s coral reef ecosystems. In places like the Caribbean, warmer water temperatures have stressed corals and facilitated infections by pathogenic fungi and bacteria. When corals—the framework builders of the ecosystem—succumb, the myriad of species that depend on them are also at risk.

“Biodiversity loss is a well-established consequence of climate change,” said coauthor Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. “In a number of infectious disease systems, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus, biodiversity loss is tied to greater pathogen transmission and increased human risk. Moving forward, we need models that are sensitive to both direct and indirect effects of climate change on infectious disease.”

Where human health is concerned, there is not only the direct risk from pathogens like dengue, malaria and cholera, all of which are linked to warmer temperatures, but indirect risks from threats to agricultural systems and game species crucial for subsistence and cultural activities.

“Earth’s changing climate and the global spread of infectious diseases are threatening human health, agriculture and wildlife. Solving these problems requires a comprehensive approach that unites scientists from biology, the geosciences and the social sciences,” said Sam Scheiner, National Science Foundation program director for the joint NSF-National Institutes of Health Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program.

The study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

“We need to transcend simple arguments about which is more important—climate change or socioeconomics—and ask just how much harder will it be to control diseases as the climate warms?” Ostfeld said. “Will it be possible at all in developing countries?”

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