Zebras seen in Nairobi National Park in Kenya.
Dan Salkeld
Zebras seen in Nairobi National Park in Kenya.

Conservation projects that protect forests and encourage plant and animal diversity can benefit humans.

But improved human health is not among those benefits when health is measured through the lens of infectious disease. That’s the main finding of a paper published April 24 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, which analyzed the relationship between infectious diseases and their environmental, demographic and economic drivers in dozens of countries over 20 years.

The new study found that increased biodiversity ― measured as the number of species and amount of forested land ― was not associated with reduced levels of infectious disease. In some cases, disease burdens actually increased as areas became more forested over time.

“There are a lot of great reasons for conservation, but control of infectious disease isn’t one of them,” said lead author and parasite ecologist Chelsea Wood, an assistant professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. “We’re not going to improve public health by pushing a single button. This study clearly shows that ― at the country level ― conservation is not a disease-control tool.”

Read more at UW Today »