Changing Land Use and Land Cover


The conversion of natural habitat to land used for agriculture and industry is occurring on a global scale, driven by an increasing demand for food, animal products, biofuel, and even cosmetics. Habitat conversion alters the structure and function of ecosystems in many ways, including:

  • substantial reduction of biological diversity, and nitrogen and phosphorous deposition from agricultural field runoff.
  • local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from land clearing by burning, which is particularly problematic in tropical and subtropical regions where oil palm cultivation is rapidly increasing.
  • soil degradation, causing desertification and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions by eroding soils and releasing stored carbon.
  • impacts on water quality and quantity, and exposure to water-borne and vector-borne disease in ways that are inadequately understood. 


Tucker MA, Böhning-Gaese K, Fagan WF, Fryxell JM, Moorter BV, Alberts SC, Ali AH, Allen AM, Attias N, Avgar T. Moving in the Anthropocene: Global reductions in terrestrial mammalian movements . Science [Internet]. 2018;359 (6374) :466-469. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Animal movement is fundamental for ecosystem functioning and species survival, yet the effects of the anthropogenic footprint on animal movements have not been estimated across species. Using a unique GPS-tracking database of 803 individuals across 57 species, we found that movements of mammals in areas with a comparatively high human footprint were on average one-half to one-third the extent of their movements in areas with a low human footprint. We attribute this reduction to behavioral changes of individual animals and to the exclusion of species with long-range movements from areas with higher human impact. Global loss of vagility alters a key ecological trait of animals that affects not only population persistence but also ecosystem processes such as predator-prey interactions, nutrient cycling, and disease transmission.

Endo N, Eltahir EAB. Environmental determinants of malaria transmission around the Koka Reservoir in Ethiopia . GeoHealth [Internet]. 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

New dam construction is known to exacerbate malaria transmission in Africa as the vectors of malaria—Anopheles mosquitoes—use bodies of water as breeding sites. Precise environmental mechanisms of how reservoirs exacerbate malaria transmission are yet to be identified. Understanding of these mechanisms should lead to a better assessment of the impacts of dam construction and to new prevention strategies. Combining extensive multi-year field surveys around the Koka Reservoir in Ethiopia and rigorous model development and simulation studies, environmental mechanisms of malaria transmission around the reservoir were examined. Most comprehensive and detailed malaria transmission model, HYDREMATS, was applied to a village adjacent to the reservoir. Significant contributions to the dynamics of malaria transmission are shaped by wind profile, marginal pools, temperature, and shoreline locations. Wind speed and wind direction influence Anopheles populations and malaria transmission during the major and secondary mosquito seasons. During the secondary mosquito season, a noticeable influence was also attributed to marginal pools. Temperature was found to play an important role, not so much in Anopheles population dynamics, but in malaria transmission dynamics. Change in shoreline locations drives malaria transmission dynamics, with closer shoreline locations to the village making malaria transmission more likely. Identified environmental mechanisms help in predicting malaria transmission seasons and in developing village relocation strategies upon dam construction to minimize the risk of malaria.

Gardner AM, Muturi EJ, Overmier LD, Allan BF. Large-Scale Removal of Invasive Honeysuckle Decreases Mosquito and Avian Host Abundance . EcoHealth [Internet]. 2017;14 (4) :750-761. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Invasive species rank second only to habitat destruction as a threat to native biodiversity. One consequence of biological invasions is altered risk of exposure to infectious diseases in human and animal populations. The distribution and prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases depend on the complex interactions between the vector, the pathogen, and the human or wildlife reservoir host. These interactions are highly susceptible to disturbance by invasive species, including terrestrial plants. We conducted a 2-year field experiment using a Before–After/Control–Impact design to examine how removal of invasive Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) in a forest fragment embedded within a residential neighborhood affects the abundance of mosquitoes, including two of the most important vectors of West Nile virus, Culex pipiens and Cx. restuans. We also assessed any potential changes in avian communities and local microclimate associated with Amur honeysuckle removal. We found that (1) removal of Amur honeysuckle reduces the abundance of both vector and non-vector mosquito species that commonly feed on human hosts, (2) the abundance and composition of avian hosts is altered by honeysuckle removal, and (3) areas invaded with honeysuckle support local microclimates that are favorable to mosquito survival. Collectively, our investigations demonstrate the role of a highly invasive understory shrub in determining the abundance and distribution of mosquitoes and suggest potential mechanisms underlying this pattern. Our results also give rise to additional questions regarding the general impact of invasive plants on vector-borne diseases and the spatial scale at which removal of invasive plants may be utilized to effect disease control.
Gorris ME, Cat LA, Zender CS, Treseder KK. Coccidioidomycosis Dynamics in Relation to Climate in the Southwestern United States . GeoHealth [Internet]. 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Valley fever is endemic to the southwestern United States. Humans contract this fungal disease by inhaling spores of Coccidioides spp. Changes in the environment can influence the abundance and dispersal of Coccidioides spp., causing fluctuations in valley fever incidence. We combined county-level case records from state health agencies to create a regional valley fever database for the southwestern United States, including Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. We used this data set to explore how environmental factors influenced the spatial pattern and temporal dynamics of valley fever incidence during 2000–2015. We compiled climate and environmental geospatial data sets from multiple sources to compare with valley fever incidence. These variables included air temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, surface dust concentration, normalized difference vegetation index, and cropland area. We found that valley fever incidence was greater in areas with warmer air temperatures and drier soils. The mean annual cycle of incidence varied throughout the southwestern United States and peaked following periods of low precipitation and soil moisture. From year-to-year, however, autumn incidence was higher following cooler, wetter, and productive springs in the San Joaquin Valley of California. In southcentral Arizona, incidence increased significantly through time. By 2015, incidence in this region was more than double the rate in the San Joaquin Valley. Our analysis provides a framework for interpreting the influence of climate change on valley fever incidence dynamics. Our results may allow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve their estimates of the spatial pattern and intensity of valley fever endemicity.

Lana RM, da Gomes MFC, de Lima TFM, Honório NA, Codeço CT. The introduction of dengue follows transportation infrastructure changes in the state of Acre, Brazil: A network-based analysis . PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Human mobility, presence and passive transportation of Aedes aegypti mosquito, and environmental characteristics are a group of factors which contribute to the success of dengue spread and establishment. To understand this process, we assess data from dengue national and municipal basins regarding population and demographics, transportation network, human mobility, and Ae. aegypti monitoring for the Brazilian state of Acre since the first recorded dengue case in the year 2000 to the year 2015. During this period, several changes in Acre’s transport infrastructure and urbanization have been started. To reconstruct the process of dengue introduction in Acre, we propose an analytic framework based on concepts used in malaria literature, namely vulnerability and receptivity, to inform risk assessments in dengue-free regions as well as network theory concepts for disease invasion and propagation. We calculate the probability of dengue importation to Acre from other Brazilian states, the evolution of dengue spread between Acrean municipalities and dengue establishment in the state. Our findings suggest that the landscape changes associated with human mobility have created favorable conditions for the establishment of dengue virus transmission in Acre. The revitalization of its major roads, as well as the increased accessibility by air to and within the state, have increased dengue vulnerability. Unplanned urbanization and population growth, as observed in Acre during the period of study, contribute to ideal conditions for Ae. aegyptimosquito establishment, increase the difficulty in mosquito control and consequently its local receptivity.

Myers SS. Planetary health: protecting human health on a rapidly changing planet . The Lancet [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The impact of human activities on our planet's natural systems has been intensifying rapidly in the past several decades, leading to disruption and transformation of most natural systems. These disruptions in the atmosphere, oceans, and across the terrestrial land surface are not only driving species to extinction, they pose serious threats to human health and wellbeing. Characterising and addressing these threats requires a paradigm shift. In a lecture delivered to the Academy of Medical Sciences on Nov 13, 2017, I describe the scale of human impacts on natural systems and the extensive associated health effects across nearly every dimension of human health. I highlight several overarching themes that emerge from planetary health and suggest advances in the way we train, reward, promote, and fund the generation of health scientists who will be tasked with breaking out of their disciplinary silos to address this urgent constellation of health threats. I propose that protecting the health of future generations requires taking better care of Earth's natural systems.