Dung beetles are detrivorous insects that feed on and reproduce in the fecal material of vertebrates. This dependency on vertebrate feces implies frequent contact between dung beetles and parasitic helminths with a fecal component to their life-cycle. Interactions between dung beetles and helminths carry both positive and negative consequences for successful parasite transmission, however to date there has been no systematic review of dung beetle-helminth interactions, their epidemiological importance, or their underlying mechanisms. Here we review the observational evidence of beetle biodiversity–helminth transmission relationships, propose five mechanisms by which dung beetles influence helminth survival and transmission, and highlight areas for future research. Efforts to understand how anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity may influence parasite transmission must include the development of detailed, mechanistic understanding of the multiple interactions between free-living and parasitic species within ecological communities. The dung beetle– helminth system may be a promising future model system with which to understand these complex relationships.
As the global human population continues to grow, so too does our impact on the environment. The ingenuity with which our species has harnessed natural resources to fulfill our needs is dazzling. Even as we tighten our grip on the environment, however, the escalating extent of anthropogenic actions destabilizes long-standing ecological balances (1, 2). The dangers of mining, refining, and fossil fuel consumption now extend beyond occupational or proximate risks to global climate change (3). Among a plethora of environmental problems, extreme climate events are intensifying (4, 5). Storms, droughts, and floods cause direct destruction, but also have pervasive repercussions on food security, infectious disease transmission, and economic stability that take their toll for many years. For example, within weeks of the catastrophic wind and flood damage from the 2016 Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, there was a dramatic surge in cholera, among other devastating repercussions (6, 7). In a world where 1% of the population possesses 50% of the wealth (8), those worst affected by extreme climatic events and the aftermath are also the least able to rebound.
Understanding feedbacks between human and environmental health is critical for the millions who cope with recurrent illness and rely directly on natural resources for sustenance. Although studies have examined how environmental degradation exacerbates infectious disease, the effects of human health on our use of the environment remains unexplored. Human illness is often tacitly assumed to reduce human impacts on the environment. By this logic, ill people reduce the time and effort that they put into extractive livelihoods and, thereby, their impact on natural resources. We followed 303 households living on Lake Victoria, Kenya over four time points to examine how illness influenced fishing. Using fixed effect conditional logit models to control for individual-level and time-invariant factors, we analyzed the effect of illness on fishing effort and methods. Illness among individuals who listed fishing as their primary occupation affected their participation in fishing. However, among active fishers, we found limited evidence that illness reduced fishing effort. Instead, ill fishers shifted their fishing methods. When ill, fishers were more likely to use methods that were illegal, destructive, and concentrated in inshore areas but required less travel and energy. Ill fishers were also less likely to fish using legal methods that are physically demanding, require travel to deep waters, and are considered more sustainable. By altering the physical capacity and outlook of fishers, human illness shifted their effort, their engagement with natural resources, and the sustainability of their actions. These findings show a previously unexplored pathway through which poor human health may negatively impact the environment.
Plants are important in urban environments for removing pathogens and improving water quality. Seagrass meadows are the most widespread coastal ecosystem on the planet. Although these plants are known to be associated with natural biocide production, they have not been evaluated for their ability to remove microbiological contamination. Using amplicon sequencing of the 16S ribosomal RNA gene, we found that when seagrass meadows are present, there was a 50% reduction in the relative abundance of potential bacterial pathogens capable of causing disease in humans and marine organisms. Moreover, field surveys of more than 8000 reef-building corals located adjacent to seagrass meadows showed twofold reductions in disease levels compared to corals at paired sites without adjacent seagrass meadows. These results highlight the importance of seagrass ecosystems to the health of humans and other organisms.
“Health is the human face of climate change” was the motivating idea behind the Climate and Health conference held at the Carter Center in Atlanta on Thursday, February 16, 2017. Originally scheduled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which then postponed it indefinitely, the meeting was resurrected by a coalition of nongovernmental organizations and universities and convened by former Vice President Al Gore. More than 300 attendees and a worldwide audience watching the live stream listened to more than 25 speakers addressing the health effects of climate change, the role of health professionals in adapting to these effects and communicating with the public and policymakers, and the health benefits of climate-change mitigation.
As biodiversity declines with anthropogenic land-use change, it is increasingly important to understand how changing biodiversity affects infectious disease risk. The dilution effect hypothesis, which points to decreases in biodiversity as critical to an increase in infection risk, has received considerable attention due to the allure of a win–win scenario for conservation and human well-being. Yet some empirical data suggest that the dilution effect is not a generalizable phenomenon. We explore the response of pathogen transmission dynamics to changes in biodiversity that are driven by habitat loss using an allometrically scaled multi-host model. With this model, we show that declining habitat, and thus declining biodiversity, can lead to either increasing or decreasing infectious-disease risk, measured as endemic prevalence. Whether larger habitats, and thus greater biodiversity, lead to a decrease (dilution effect) or increase (amplification effect) in infection prevalence depends upon the pathogen transmission mode and how host competence scales with body size. Dilution effects were detected for most frequency-transmitted pathogens and amplification effects were detected for density-dependent pathogens. Amplification effects were also observed over a particular range of habitat loss in frequency-dependent pathogens when we assumed that host competence was greatest in large-bodied species. By contrast, only amplification effects were observed for density-dependent pathogens; host competency only affected the magnitude of the effect. These models can be used to guide future empirical studies of biodiversity–disease relationships across gradients of habitat loss. The type of transmission, the relationship between host competence and community assembly, the identity of hosts contributing to transmission, and how transmission scales with area are essential factors to consider when elucidating the mechanisms driving disease risk in shrinking habitat.