Tropical ecosystems lost to climate change could increase disease risk in humans

by Stephen Hurrell. Published Tue 25 Aug 2009 15:24, Last updated: 2009-08-25
Tropical lizards eat disease carriers such as mosquitoes

The destruction of tropical ecosystems by climate change could have a knock-on effect on human health, claims new research funded by the National Science Foundation.

Laurie Vitt, curator of reptiles and George Lynn Cross Research Professor at the University of Oklahoma’s Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, says the smallest change in climate could have a devastating impact on ecosystems in tropical areas.

Tropical lizards can detect small changes in climate and are greatly affected by these, and as global warming accelerates, three species are already in danger of becoming extinct.

Vitt, who studied the ecology of lizards in rainforests around the world for 20 years, explained: “We depend on these tropical lizards and other species of animals and plants for food, materials, and pharmaceuticals, but we are losing these species as a result of global warming.

“Our ability to connect with nature and better understand tropical lizards is important because these animals serve as model organisms for detecting the effects of global warming.

“Ecosystems are complex and interdependent. When one species becomes extinct, the entire system is affected. The long-term effects on human health can be dramatic,” he added.

The research claims that human population doubles every 30 years and the increased consumption has led to destruction of habitat and climate change. Lizards and other animals feed on disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes and fleas and if they were to disappear, disease may spread quickly amongst the human population.

“The loss of these predators, like tropical species, upsets the natural biodiversity of the ecosystem,” Vitt says. “The effects may not be so obvious in the short term, but the long-term effects will be irreversible.”

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Comments about Tropical ecosystems lost to climate change could increase disease risk in humans

All ecosystems will be quickly destroyed when warming exceeds .4 C/decade & .3 is predicted from 2004 to 2014 alone (i.e. we're screwed)!
Brad Arnold, St Louis Park, MN around 4 years, 4 months ago

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