CABI has shared its expertise on a new strategic issues article which highlights a range of ecological countermeasures for preventing zoonotic diseases as part of an overall call for ecological restoration to be seen as a greater imperative for human health.
Dr Arne Witt shared his knowledge on invasive alien plant species as part of the paper – led by Dr Jamie K. Reaser – which argues that ecological restoration should be regarded as a ‘public health service’ but a lack of quantitative linkages between environmental and human health has seen limited recognition of this principle.
The paper, published in Restoration Ecology, goes onto to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic provides the impetus for further discussion into the scientist’s preposition that ecological countermeasures should be ‘highly targeted, landscape-based interventions to arrest the drivers of land use-induced zoonotic spillover.’
In their review, the researchers – including US scientists from the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, Montana, Pennsylvania State University and Montana State University – provide examples of ecological restoration activities that reduce zoonotic disease risk and highlight a five-point action plan that includes the removal of invasive alien species and the reintroduction of native plants as ecological countermeasures.
They elaborate on the action plan by Breed et al (2020) – which serves to ‘incentivize society to push towards a restorative culture, and away from a culture of ecological degradation’ – by suggesting it serves as a basis for further investigating land use-induced spillover and the establishment of ecological countermeasures as a ‘component of ecological restoration.’
The action plan also features considerations of monitoring restoration and health outcomes as well as community ownership and stewardship.
Examples the scientists refer to in respect of invasive alien plants – which they say provide ‘optimal habitat for zoonotic pathogens, hosts and vectors – include the case of mosquitos in aquatic environments that increase the risk of malaria transmission.
The authors point out that “In aquatic environments, there is a clear link between invasive alien plants, water stagnation, and the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases. Upon reviewing relevant literature, Stone et al. (2018) concluded that the control of invasive alien plants in aquatic environments could contribute to malaria risk mitigation. They highlight research priorities to integrate vector and invasive alien plant management in a synergistic fashion.”
However, when considering other restoration measures such as large-scale tree planting – the scientists add that caution should be applied as this could ‘attract pathogen-hosting wildlife to new food and habitat resources’ which could increase the risk of human exposure to zoonotic pathogens.
The researchers conclude by reiterating that, as a ‘tenant of ecological restoration’, ecological countermeasures could become ‘standard operating procedures for zoonotic disease prevention and response.’
“The application of ecological countermeasures could be particularly valuable when there is a need to improve cost-efficiencies and efficacy; where, for example, highly vulnerable human populations live in poverty and there are few resources, coordinating mechanisms, and adequately trained professionals to apply large-scale medical and veterinary interventions in perpetuity,” the authors conclude.
Main image: In aquatic environments, there is a clear link between invasive alien plants, water stagnation, and the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases (Credit: Pixabay).
Full paper reference
Jamie K. Reaser, Arne Witt, Gary M. Tabor, Peter J. Hudson, Raina K. Plowright, ‘Ecological Countermeasures for Preventing Zoonotic Disease Outbreaks: When Ecological Restoration is a Human Health Imperative,’ Restoration Ecology, 18 February, 2021, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/rec.13357
The paper can viewed here.