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A healthy argument for biodiversity

Richard Black | 18:42 UK time, Wednesday, 1 December 2010

An apple a day might not keep the doctor away... but if an article in this week's Nature is correct, a little bit of biodiversity might be the trick.

The link between biodiversity and health is a topic we've been into previously on this blog - almost two years ago, in fact.

That concerned a paper showing that rates of schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia, and something you definitely don't want to catch) could be reduced by environmental management that preserved a diversity of snails in ponds and rivers.

The schistosomes that cause the disease spend part of their lives in snails - and preserving the diversity appeared to mean that parasites would enter snail species in which they couldn't develop, leading to fewer of the things emerging to infect people.

White-footed mouse

The white-footed mouse is an efficient carrier of the Lyme Disease bacterium

That study is among those featured in the Nature piece, which reviews evidence from many different human diseases - malaria, hantavirus, West Nile virus - as well as some affecting frogs and plants.

So across the board, does biodiversity provide some kind of protection against disease?

In general, yes, the scientists conclude - and for a number of reasons.

West Nile virus, for example, is carried by mosquitos. Infected mosquitos bite birds, the virus multiplies within the bird, resulting in a higher virus load, more infected mosqitos and eventually, more infected people.

Several studies in the US have shown that when the diversity of bird species is high, the risk of humans being infected is relatively low - perhaps, again, because mosquitos are busy pumping their viral load into birds where the virus will not multiply.

You might argue that the impact of diversity loss ought to depend on which species are becoming depleted.

If it's a disease carrier that's disappearing, the net impact on human health ought to be positive.

What this analysis suggests is that in many different cases, the survivors are species that do carry disease.

Again in the north-eastern US, for example, Lyme Disease - a very nasty tick-borne infection - is carried and indeed amplified by the white-footed mouse, an abundant species and one that appears to be adaptable enough to survive the fragmentation of forests.

The opossum, on the other hand, which is a poor host for the bacterium, doesn't handle degraded land too well and moves on - potentially leading to an increase in disease transmission.

Thinking back through recent history, there are pretty obvious examples where this general rule (if rule it is) breaks down.

Clearing the Kenyan highlands of mosquitos during the colonial era obviously brought down insect diversity - but had a hugely beneficial impact on malaria.

Another limitation of the analysis is that it only looks at infectious diseases. Monoculture crop plantations might drive away animals that would otherwise decoy pathogens - but if they provide greater volumes of food, the net impact on human health might still be positive.

One of the intriguing possibilities signalled in the review paper - which, in the interests of clarity, I should signal is written by 13 scientists from a variety of institutions in the US and from the Zoological Society of London - is whether you could use information about ecology and how it's changing to identify potential disease hotspots.

Could you spot places where biological diversity is being truncated, and model what's likely to happen in terms of vectors and hosts and contact with people?

Alternatively - could such modelling studies provide new reasons to conserve some of nature's remaining diversity?

Bearing in mind what governments signed up to at the recent UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Japan - namely, that

"By 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporatedinto national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems"

- you could assume it will provide additional incentives for conservation.

A 1993 paper estimated that Lyme Disease cost the US about $1bn per year... and beside sums like that, the cost of keeping a few tracts of opossum-friendly forest intact might look like money well spent.

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  • 1. At 09:09am on 02 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    There have been great increases in local biodiversity in temperate cities, where many people maintain gardens with a wide range of introduced plants, which in their turn attract a wide range of animals, especially birds.

    I would guess there there is much more biodiversity in a present-day suburban housing estate than there was 100 years ago on a traditional farm.

    Please don't mention "native" species. Practically all species were introduced at some point or other. The very idea of "native" species is too similar to the idea of "non-British races".

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  • 2. At 9:03pm on 02 Dec 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    What we may view as negative, a carrier, might be an important link in some chain of events. Because something creates a problem for humans does not mean it lacks value in some eco-system. Many important plants and animals have disappeared because humans found them unwelcome. Human ignorance generally is the basis for most decisions....and greed.

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  • 3. At 09:57am on 03 Dec 2010, rossglory wrote:

    #1 bowmanthebard

    "I would guess there there is much more biodiversity in a present-day suburban housing estate than there was 100 years ago on a traditional farm."

    that's about as panglossian as you can get.......personally, looking at the patios, lawns and concrete parking bays i would guess the exact opposite.

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  • 4. At 10:09am on 03 Dec 2010, rossglory wrote:

    surprising how counterintuitive this can be.

    for example who would believe not trying to eradicate mosquitos would be the best defence against malaria. but ddt (which revisionists are trying to re-label as the miracle chemical of the 20th century) was most effective when sprayed indoors and left on the walls where it killed the few individuals that got in homes. unfortunately it was mass-sprayed outdoors to eradicate mosquitos and just lead to evolved resistance.

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  • 5. At 10:40am on 03 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    rossglory #3 wrote:

    that's about as panglossian as you can get.......personally, looking at the patios, lawns and concrete parking bays i would guess the exact opposite.

    I have two objections to this, which I'll take in reverse order. First, if you're looking at the patios, lawns and concrete parking bays you are looking at the wrong things. You should be looking for the blackcaps, siskins, goldfinches and waxwings that are in fact flying about the patios and lawns. You should be looking for the teasel that the goldfinches feed on. You should be looking for the newts in the ponds on the lawns.

    Second, you have grossly misinterpreted Voltaire if you think I am being Panglossian. Voltaire was almost violently anti-clerical -- like myself -- and detested the theology of Leibniz, which the character of Pangloss was intended to satirize.

    You -- not me, you -- think that any change to the climate would be a bad thing. That is because you, not me, think the world as it is is as good as it can be, and any change must be change for the worse. That is Leibniz's position, in a nutshell, and it is theological, because it assumes that God designed it, or in other words (to put it into your own supposedly "secular" version of it) there is a "perfect balance" in nature which Man disrupts.

    That is religious hogwash, all the more depressing because its proponents are blissfully unaware of their half-baked quasi-religious commitments (to "design" in nature).

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  • 6. At 11:48am on 03 Dec 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    rossglory at post 3 and 4
    The way you have phrased number 4 reads like something awful, are you talking about mosquitos or people? When you use the word 'individuals' it changes the context. Your post number 3 looks cynical and I have to say I personally try my hardest to provide sanctuary and self sustaining food and shelter for bees, butterflies, birds, hedgehogs, slugs, snails, frogs, toads, hawks, slow worms, foxes etc etc.
    A bit of pan gloss might do you good.

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  • 7. At 12:21pm on 03 Dec 2010, ADMac wrote:

    @ Moderators

    If you get your programmers to remove the comment code which is on the same line as

    "By 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporatedinto national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems"

    in the HTML code used to display this page, this blog will be available to people using Internet Explorer.

    At the moment as you will no doubt be aware, only Firefox users can display it properly.

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  • 8. At 1:55pm on 03 Dec 2010, rossglory wrote:

    #6 sensiblegrannie

    "post number 3 looks cynical"

    i don't believe it is cynical. bowman makes yet another sweeping statement (this time gracious enough to call it a guess). my guess is that biobiveristy is going down the pan (glossy or otherwise) and it just so happens that most of the research has come to the same conclusion. if reflecting the rather depressing scientific research appears cynical so be it, but at some point we will have to address these issues and panglossian statements will not change that.

    i'm sure you (and possibly many on this comment board) do a lot to encourage wildlife but my comments are based on the research so please don;t take them personally.

    'individuals' meant mosquitos (ddt is rather toxic but in small amounts safer than the risk of malaria).

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  • 9. At 2:10pm on 03 Dec 2010, rossglory wrote:

    #5 bowmanthebard

    "First, if you're looking at the patios, lawns and concrete parking bays you are looking at the wrong things."

    you can look at an ecosystem and make judgements about the likely biodiversity it will support. birds need food, water, nesting sites and much more, patios do not provide these but farms 100 years ago most probably did. if you see siskins, goldfinches etc (i put out a number of feeders and see sparrows, pigeons, magpies and flying overhead rather noisy parakeets) then they are probably being supported by surrounding countryside.

    gardens have their part to play but the evidence is emphatically that biodiversity is going down (although some species are coping better than others).

    i have read candide and understand its references, however 'panglossian' has entered english usage as "a person who views a situation with unwarranted optimism" (from dictionary.com). please don;t read more into it than is there.

    "You -- not me, you -- think that any change to the climate would be a bad thing."

    i am fighting tooth and nail to change the climate. it has warmed and is warming at rate that is alarming and i wish to change that.

    "because its proponents are blissfully unaware of their half-baked quasi-religious commitments"

    how can i be unaware? this is almost boiler plate for your comments.....

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  • 10. At 2:19pm on 03 Dec 2010, GeoffWard wrote:

    We live on the sand-dune ridge between the beach and the drained dune-slack. The drainage channel is cleared of mangrove, shallow and intermittently choked with/cleared of water hyacynth. The now miles-long drainage channel has become the repository for illegal domestic drainage, and the result is HIGH dengue potential via the Aedes mosquito group.
    The channel is some 30 metres wide and just half a metre deep except in peak flow; it is regularly deoxygenated so midge & mosquito swarms would be common except for one thing - biological control.
    Where Betta spp. (fighting fish), and Poecilia spp.(guppy/molly) fail, the illegally introduced Tilapia mossambica is *incredibly* prolific and seems to produce at least three broods a year. Thus there are always millions of juvenile fish to graze-off the mosquito larvae.
    We now only need the State Dengue Control Teams to address the 'river' when acute faecal pollution episodes deoxygenate and knock back the fish population; the rest of the time they treat with pesticide the water in derelict swimming pools, tyre heaps and plant holder trays.
    Dengue periodically debilitates (or kills) hundreds of thousands of people here, especially along the coastal Mata Atlantica disturbed forest (World Biosphere Reserve - though you wouldn't know it); it is equally at home in the towns/favelas as in the country/villages. My best mate here, another ex-pat Brit (with whom I share beach-time sampling the local cachaca most weekends), suffered 'the bone-breaker' dengue infection last year and, I have to say, I am mighty greatful to the locals that introduced the alien Tilapia as a local food source. I find tropical diseases can be really nasty.
    Biodiversity is different from biological control but they tend to both work in the same direction when we consider tropical diseases.

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  • 11. At 2:33pm on 03 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    For the record, Leibniz's idea (mocked by Voltaire in _Candide_) that this is "the best of all possible worlds" was part of his "solution" to the "problem of evil". (The "problem of evil" goes like this: if God is all-good and all-powerful, then why does he allow so much evil in the world?) The "solution", supposedly, is that God is indeed all-good and all-powerful, but there are some things even God cannot change, because they are dictated by logic. For example, squares have four sides, and therefore four corners. Even God cannot makes squares that have three corners, because that goes against logic. God cannot make two plus two equal to five, because again that is disallowed by logic.

    With me so far? -- Good! -- Now, Leibniz thought that of all the potential worlds that God could possibly have made, within the constraints of logic of course, the actual world in which we live is the best of them. God made it perfect, albeit consistent with the constraints of logic. Plus, of course, as part of the overall perfection, God gave Man "free will", and with that free will Man sullies the "best of all possible worlds" that God made.

    Sound familiar?

    Meanwhile Voltaire, appalled by the death and suffering caused by the Lisbon earthquake (which obviously was not caused by Man's free will) thought the whole idea laughable, and intellectually "prissy" in the manner he thought typical of academics and religious men of the cloth. So he parodied the idea with his Pangloss character. Voltaire was part of the emerging enlightenment "humanist" movement which was beginning to see "Nature" as less and less "perfect" (or God-designed), and Man as less and less the great "corrupter of Nature". Man is capable of terrible things, of course, but Man is also capable of doing good things too. There are grounds for optimism. Science (genuine science) is the enemy of poverty and disease.

    One of my heroes, JS Mill, was a late member of that enlightenment "humanist" movement. You can get a rough idea of what he thought about "Nature" from this passage:

    "In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another are nature's everyday performances. Killing, the most criminal act recognised by human laws, Nature does once to every being that lives; and, in a large proportion of cases, after protracted tortures such as only the greatest monsters whom we read of ever purposely inflicted on their living fellow creatures. If, by an arbitrary reservation, we refuse to account anything murder but what abridges a certain term supposed to be allotted to human life, nature also does this to all but a small percentage of lives, and does it in all the modes, violent or insidious, in which the worst human beings take the lives of one another. Nature impales men, breaks them as if on the wheel, casts them to be devoured by wild beasts, burns them to death, crushes them with stones like the first Christian martyr, starves them with hunger, freezes them with cold, poisons them by the quick or slow venom of her exhalations, and has hundreds of other hideous deaths in reserve..."

    And here is something dismissive Mill wrote about human pessimism:

    "I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage."

    (By the way, I hadn't read that last sentence of Mill's till yesterday, when I read an article by Bill Gates, who quoted it. That article can be read here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704243904575630761699028330.html )

    I hope you can see that the "Panglosses" of this debate are generally not on the sceptical optimists' side, but on the side of those who see "Nature" as perfect, balanced, etc., and take a pessimistic view of Man -- especially modern, industrialized Man -- as the great corrupter of "Nature".

    Test yourself: Do you think "genetic modification" is a good thing because it is an optimistic scientific development that contributes to biodiversity, or a bad thing because it is the work of Man, the great corrupter of Nature?

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  • 12. At 2:44pm on 03 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    rossglory #9 wrote:

    i am fighting tooth and nail to change the climate. it has warmed and is warming at rate that is alarming and i wish to change that.

    This is disingenuous use of language. You and others are are trying to maintain (or re-establish) a sort of "natural status quo". No matter what words you may use to express it, it amounts to being "against change".

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  • 13. At 3:40pm on 03 Dec 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    GeoffWard at post 10
    Shapeshifter! I thought you were local as in UK ;-)
    What you have to say is very interesting. You mention the fish tilapia. Tilapia as we know it, can be bought from the supermarket as food in the UK. It sounds to me as if Tilapia, although illegal, is a very good predator of mosquito lava. I have been tracking the spread of Dengue and realise that it is an horrific problem with an ever extending reach further Northwards. Global warming, or at least higher land temperatures, is creating the conditions for the spread of mosquitos. As a consequence dengue is spreading into areas where once it was unknown. I wonder how many tourists consider this problem when they choose an exotic holiday? I dislike the use of ddt. While on a camping holiday in Spain one year, the camp officials sprayed the whole place with ddt every day as the smell was vile. Goodness only knows what the long term side effects of such an approach has on human and animal health.
    Genetic modification has been going on for generations. The rich do it as part of improving their stock. Maize is a prime example and so is the common potato or the humble rice. There is no such thing as natural landscape in Britain. What we perceive as natural in our landscapes is a highly organised human system of spaces. Flora and fauna are there mostly by design. Even the 'natural' reed-beds and waterways are more often than not performing a role in filtering out toxic materials from that water. 'Nature' is almost a myth.
    There will always be a dispute between the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. As humans we should be deciding not so much to take sides but rather to take the best ideas from all perspectives. The human has the capability to become sublime whereas, at present, the animal has to obey its primitive instincts. Nature/nurture...

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  • 14. At 4:00pm on 03 Dec 2010, rossglory wrote:

    #11 bowmanthebard

    "With me so far?" - sorry, i gave up. i did say i was using the standard english usage....take it or leave it.

    "natural status quo" - there is a really good book by w burroughs called 'climate change in prehistory' with the subtext 'the end of chaos'. the climate in the holocene has been remarkably stable and conducive to civilisation. i do not think there is anything especially "natural" or god-given about this period but to deliberately replace it with anything like the climatic chaos that preceded it or worse (and that is likely if we allow 1000ppm) is irresponsible.

    so, if you like i am against this sort of change change. in the same way i don;t want the changes that a bullet through the head may entail.....call me old fashioned. that is not to pre-suppose that there is anything special about a head without a bullet (natural or spiritual), just that it tends to work better that way.

    that is why i think mass species extinction is a bad idea and similarly unrestrained agw.

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  • 15. At 4:16pm on 03 Dec 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    The theory of occams razor.

    In the cholera afflicted areas of the world those who are using the simple method of filtering water through three layers of sari are filtering out 99% of cholera. How did the women know what to do? "The simplest methods are often the best." from dean blog on croftblog.

    Instead of arguing, let us all unite and share the best ideas.

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  • 16. At 4:32pm on 03 Dec 2010, Jack Hughes wrote:

    There is a god who intervenes in our world...

    Wrong kind of warming, eh, Vicki ?

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  • 17. At 4:40pm on 03 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    sensiblegrannie #15 wrote:

    Instead of arguing, let us all unite and share the best ideas.

    We won't know which ideas are best if ideas don't come into conflict -- as they do when we argue!

    Disagreement is the lifeblood of science and philosophy.

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  • 18. At 5:08pm on 03 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    Jack Hughes #16 wrote:

    Wrong kind of warming, eh, Vicki ?

    Perhaps she put her trust in David Viner of the UEA, who in 2000 said that snow in winter would soon become "a very rare and exciting event" and that "children just aren't going to know what snow is".

    At least Vicki knows what snow is now!

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-724017.html

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  • 19. At 5:29pm on 03 Dec 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    I fear that some of the argument is deliberately counterproductive, otherwise I agree with you wholeheartedly.

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  • 20. At 6:16pm on 03 Dec 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    Just a note: Avian flu (H5) has shown up in Japan. they are killing a large number of chickens. Diversity, in nature, an ever evolving process. Another opportunity for the mutation to human to human spread. Good luck.

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  • 21. At 7:08pm on 03 Dec 2010, GeoffWard wrote:

    "GeoffWard at post 10 - Shapeshifter! I thought you were local as in UK ;-) ...." (sensiblegrannie @ 13)
    ----------------------
    Hi grannie,
    London/Herts & Salvador, Bahia.
    I once thought my VC/CE called me as a comedian in a meeting. Seeing little funny, I asked him to repeat. "Chameleon", he said " - always coming at problems from a variety of unusual angles!".
    So, I guess I can live with Shapeshifter (though 'Were-ward' is a bit of an oxymoron).

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  • 22. At 7:47pm on 03 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    sensiblegrannie #13 wrote:

    Global warming, or at least higher land temperatures, is creating the conditions for the spread of mosquitos. As a consequence dengue is spreading into areas where once it was unknown.

    Are you sure about this? I thought mosquitos simply bred wherever there is standing (i.e. still, stagnant-type) water. Their cousins "midges", although not so horrible as to spread diseases, can horribly lower the quality of the outdoors in places like Canada (often cool) and Scotland (always cool).

    Are mosquito-borne diseases really encouraged by heat, or do they just happen to thrive in places that happen to be tropical, because there's a lot of rain and non-frozen water in tropical places?

    the camp officials sprayed the whole place with ddt every day as the smell was vile

    I have to admit, the smell of DDT brings me back to my childhood. Personally, I don't think of it as a "vile" smell at all. When I was a boy, my older brother and I occasionally went to "flea pit" cinemas -- and yes, often come away with fleas -- at which point my mother (a zoologist, by the way) used to liberally sprinkle our beds, hair, etc. with DDT. I sort-of remember the distinctive smell, and it would come instantly back to me if I were allowed anywhere near DDT again.

    DDT has been used all over the place, and it's really relatively benign, as insecticides go. In my youth, parents were terribly concerned about diseases like polio and TB, and weren't sure how they were spread. There were real obvious victims of polio and TB all over the place, but no obvious victims of DDT. (And there still aren't.)

    The most obvious bad thing that DDT did was, after entering the food chain, it made the shells of bird eggs thinner. Obviously, that's bad for bird reproduction.

    But as rossglory #4 wrote: unfortunately it was mass-sprayed outdoors to eradicate mosquitos and just lead to evolved resistance.

    -- And evolved resistance is general, as both mosquitos and birds evolve resistance to the effects of DDT -- which have been much worse for insects than birds. I would love to be able to buy DDT, although I would use it more sparingly than my mother!

    But as ghostofsichuan #20 wrote: Diversity, in nature, an ever evolving process.

    Hear hear.

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  • 23. At 7:51pm on 03 Dec 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    "Again in the north-eastern US, for example, Lyme Disease - a very nasty tick-borne infection - is carried and indeed amplified by the white-footed mouse, an abundant species and one that appears to be adaptable enough to survive the fragmentation of forests."

    Richard, you incessantly put the eco-crisis spin on everything! Thus here you note that this mouse "appears to be adaptable enough to survive the fragmentation of forests," which implies that this species needs intact forests to survive - which is false - and has some 'survival' issues - which is also false. They are habitat generalists, which means, in case you don't know, that they can live in a variety of habitats, including suburbia, and the Texas plains. And they are as threatened as house mice.

    (We have their close cousins, Deer Mice, with similar habitat needs and are engaged in an ongoing 'culling' program of them in our garage.)

    Then you add this essentially meaningless but loaded comment: "The opossum, on the other hand, which is a poor host for the bacterium, doesn't handle degraded land too well and moves on - potentially leading to an increase in disease transmission."

    Note the loaded but meaningless term "degraded land." In any case, this species has EXPANDED its range as European settlement 'degraded' the land, because it thrives in farming areas (with cover) and in suburbia where this versatile omnivore raids garbage cans etc.

    To top it off you write that it "moves on" from these imaginary "degraded" lands, which is such a simplistic statement that I can barely believe you wrote it. Moves on to where? If there is some place suitable for a such a refugee opposum to move to, it would already be occupied by other opposums. The only time they can 'move on' is when some vacant habitat is available - like when they expanded their range into the 'degraded' lands historically.

    Looking at these two statements together, another absurdity emerges. You - or is it the author of this paper? - are suggesting that there would be less lyme disease transmission if there were fewer opposums, which would only be POTENTIALLY true if that meant there were fewer alternate hosts. So why would there be fewer WF Mice if there were fewer opposums? They both use similar or the same habitats and the latter prey on the former. So, logically, and on the simplistic level of your comments, there would be fewer mice where there are more opossums, and vice versa.

    That's just one problem with this article. As you say, it is all written with the qualifier that "if an article in this week's Nature is correct,"
    and these obvious problems suggest that it is not. Indeed, it looks like the Biodiversity crisis gang is just trying to use the same scare tactics as the AGW gang... recall the hysterical and false AGW threats about malaria.

    There are plenty of legitimate reasons to conserve biodiversity. No need to cry wolf like this. But if you do, you should at least do some homework on the species you are crying about.





    , whand here and are engagThey can s which

    leaves the impressionsuggesting that

    , no matter how ridiculous drum no matter what

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  • 24. At 7:58pm on 03 Dec 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #10. GeoffWard wrote:

    "We live on the sand-dune ridge between the beach and the drained dune-slack."

    Now I know why you are worried about sea level rise.

    This article, and the graph with it, should make you feel better:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/12/01/sea-level-rise-jumpy-after-last-ice-age/

    It is a paper from authors at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton which was published in the journal Global and Planetary Change, so it might be as credible as those scary IPCC reports you seem to take seriously.

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  • 25. At 8:10pm on 03 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    CanadianRockies #23 wrote:

    , whand here and are engagThey can s which

    Further proof that great minds think alike. If I got a buck for every time I copied/pasted and shunted forward stuff I'm responding to or writing myself, I'd be rich!

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  • 26. At 8:46pm on 03 Dec 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    25. bowmanthebard wrote:

    Ooops! No, wait. That's just a quote from a peer reviewed article explaining the unified theory of everything. I admit, it is a little difficult to follow, which is why it is always best that us "little people" rely on the experts "mo matter how ridiculous."

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  • 27. At 9:28pm on 03 Dec 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    14. rossglory wrote:

    "that is why i think mass species extinction is a bad idea and similarly unrestrained agw."

    I think that domesticating unicorns is a bad idea too.

    But to your "mass extinction" fears, can you provide us with some examples of actual species going extinct in, say, the UK? Given the habitat loss and deforestation there the place should be a ghost town, shouldn't it?

    And I use the term "actual species" very deliberately because all these at-risk lists include dubious and/or recently identified/invented subspecies and, even worse, distinct geographic populations, which conveniently inflate the statistics.

    Moreover, the ONLY 'species' on those lists which are actually/theoretically threatened with actual extinction are those listed as Endangered. Those listed as 'Threatened' are only threatened with becoming Endangered, not extinct. And those listed as 'Vulnerable' or 'Special Concern' (the terminology varies) are only threatened with becoming Threatened.

    Yet the public, including you I'm guessing, is fooled into believing all the 'species' on these lists are facing extinction.

    Finally, the only 'species' which get legally mandated research funding are those listed as Endangered or Threatened. Do you think that the eco-crisis research industry might have a vested interest in 'discovering' that what they want to study is Threatened or worse? Do you think they might want to get legally mandated cash for what they want to do anyway?And since each defined 'species' can become a lifelong research job, do you think that these researchers might have a vested interest in discovering new 'species' or 'subspecies' or 'distinct populations'?

    Here's a great example of how this industry works:

    "At least 24 species have gone extinct after being designated as a candidate for protection, including the Louisiana prairie vole, Tacoma pocket gopher, San Gabriel Mountains blue butterfly, Sangre de Cristo peaclam from New Mexico and numerous Hawaiian invertebrates."

    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9JNMBGO0&show_article=1

    Get it? How's the Liverpool Magpie doing? And:

    "The federal government spent nearly $1.4 billion last year on programs and land acquisition related to endangered species, up from just under $1 billion the previous year."

    The more 'species' they invent, and can get on these lists, the more money they get.

    This is particularly revealing:

    "Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration is failing to provide prompt protection to wildlife desperately in need of protection," including the plains bison..."

    LOL. There are more than a million plains bison in captivity, compared to almost none living in 1900, and even the so-called wild ones in parks now are effectively domesticated inside fenced areas.

    Why don't they list Herefords?

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  • 28. At 06:55am on 04 Dec 2010, Cariboo wrote:

    sensiblegrannie #13 wrote:

    Global warming, or at least higher land temperatures, is creating the conditions for the spread of mosquitoes. As a consequence dengue is spreading into areas where once it was unknown.



    Here is an informative article about dengue fever. It would seem urbanization, plastic containers and old tyres are the real culprits.


    When it comes to mosquitoes, if any one thinks that being warmer favors mosquitoes.

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  • 29. At 07:08am on 04 Dec 2010, Cariboo wrote:

    15. sensiblegrannie

    In the cholera afflicted areas of the world those who are using the simple method of filtering water through three layers of sari are filtering out 99% of cholera.


    Has anyone told the Haitians about this simple and effective self help. Probably not because it is not technical enough.

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  • 30. At 07:53am on 04 Dec 2010, rossglory wrote:

    #28 cariboo

    "When it comes to mosquitoes, if any one thinks that being warmer favors mosquitoes."

    could you not find a scientific reference? if i search the whole internet i could find that aliens were the cause of increased disease.

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  • 31. At 09:35am on 04 Dec 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    cariboo at post 28 and 29
    The beauty of this open blog is that we can exchange ideas, and that others can read the ideas when they have the time. Perhaps we may help towards saving lives by merely flagging up useful information.
    ghostofsichuan at post 20
    I am glad you brought up what I was directing others towards finding out for themselves. The story goes much deeper of course and it is worth investigating further.

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  • 32. At 10:30am on 04 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    rossglory #30 wrote:

    could you not find a scientific reference?

    Try this:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v465/n7296/full/nature09098.html

    "widespread claims that rising mean temperatures have already led to increases in worldwide malaria morbidity and mortality are largely at odds with observed decreasing global trends in both its endemicity and geographic extent. Second, the proposed future effects of rising temperatures on endemicity are at least one order of magnitude smaller than changes observed since about 1900 and up to two orders of magnitude smaller than those that can be achieved by the effective scale-up of key control measures. Predictions of an intensification of malaria in a warmer world, based on extrapolated empirical relationships or biological mechanisms, must be set against a context of a century of warming that has seen marked global declines in the disease and a substantial weakening of the global correlation between malaria endemicity and climate."

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  • 33. At 2:20pm on 04 Dec 2010, wild50 wrote:

    While I whole heartedly agree that protecting nature is vital and a moral obligation, we must guard against our own biases. The relationship of biodiversity to human health is complex, and often contradictory. We at WildMetro (a New York city based non profit organization) and our partners have just completed three years of research on the status of multiple species (amphibians, breeding birds, small mammals, plants) at dozens of sites in the NYC metro region. We compared sites in the city center with sites extending a hundred miles from the city. While results have not yet been published, the general pattern is that there is more diversity in rural areas. However, some species (think of pigeons and park squirrels) maintain very high populations in cities. Interstingly, suburban areas sometimes are less hospitable for many organisms than large urban reserves. Contrary to the information in the column, opossums are doing fairly well in cities and suburbs. We regulary see them on my street in the Bronx.

    Regarding human health, one of the studies featured in Mr. Black's column looked at lyme disease. This study was done by people I know and respect. But a different study could have come to the conclusion that less diversity was better for human health, since without deer (white-tailed deer in this case) there is no lyme disease. It only appeared (or re-appeared) in the eastern US after farm abandonment in the region led to a rebound of the deer population. Similarly, since destruction of wetlands in NYC there have been no outbreaks of yellow fever, formerly a major mosqito borne plague. Without birds there would be no west nile virus nor avian flu. Jared Diamond's book "Germs, Guns and Steel" explored the relationship of domestic animals to human disease. I do not know of a simalar examination of wild animals, but clearly some patterns are similar. It makes sense that more animals means more disease.

    But the point is to figure how people and nature can co-exist. We need to be clever and create strategies to promote all life. The good news is that the studies reported on in the Nature article may point to cost effective ways we can maintain wildlife populations and human health. While we have a moral obligation to protect nature for its own sake, efforts that ignore human welfare are doomed. They will get little popular or political support.

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  • 34. At 3:00pm on 04 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    wild50 #33 wrote:

    We need to be clever and create strategies to promote all life.

    But that's just an unthinking "slogan". Of course you don't want to promote diseases, or possibly the carriers of diseases such as some mites, mosquitos, rats, etc..

    So if we're honest, we just don't want to promote all life, do we?

    Less slogans, more thought, please!

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  • 35. At 3:37pm on 04 Dec 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @rossglory
    @bowmanthebard

    I agree that some gardens are basically green deserts as far as wildlife is concerned. But that is a long way from universally true.

    My grandparents could afford a gardener. Their garden looked immaculate. Well almost.

    One of my earliest memories was an encounter with stinging nettles in their garden when I was very young, possibly pre-school. The gardener had left them there deliberately because my grandparents wanted them there, because stinging nettles are good for butterflies. And yes, it worked, they had butterflies.
    http://www.nettles.org.uk/nettles/wildlife/butterflies.asp

    I have said in previous posts how some of the AGW sceptics I know in my personal life are into conservation. Well two of them are birders (like our chum CanadianRockies). And they make an effort to make their gardens bird friendly. In one case the effort definitely also extends to bee friendly and butterfly friendly.

    In the meantime, many UK based conservation charities see wildlife friendly gardens as an important contribution to wildlife.
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/gardening/wildlife-friendly_garden.aspx
    http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk/gardening_for_bumblebees.htm
    http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/downloads/48/gardening.html

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  • 36. At 3:44pm on 04 Dec 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #11

    "Test yourself: Do you think "genetic modification" is a good thing because it is an optimistic scientific development that contributes to biodiversity, or a bad thing because it is the work of Man, the great corrupter of Nature?"

    Bowman, do I need to remind you? The biggest problem with GM is the legal enforcement of intellectual property rights, and the lack of recognition in law of the difficulty in keeping someone else's copyrighted genes for a crop off a farmer's property.
    http://www.percyschmeiser.com/

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  • 37. At 3:51pm on 04 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    JaneBasingstoke #36 wrote:

    The biggest problem with GM is the legal enforcement of intellectual property rights

    But the "test" wasn't intended to find out whether the reader was in favour of GM crops -- it was to intended to find out whether the reader was in favour of biodiversity per se. There is a widespread, visceral intuition that Man is the "corrupter of Nature" -- and that intuition blinds us to the good things Man is capable of, as well as the bad things Nature is capable of.

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  • 38. At 4:14pm on 04 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    The countryside has lost a lot of hedgerows, but gained a lot of motorway verges. The latter have fewer trees, but are inaccessible to ground predators such as cats. Although farmland has fewer trees, urban areas have more trees. And so on.

    Without even thinking about it, most people are viscerally "anti motorways" and "pro hedgerows", because motorways evoke "Brave New World"-type dystopias and hedgerows evoke "Cider with Rosie"-type utopias. Much the same goes for "the countryside" versus "suburbia". But what those things evoke is not a reliable measure of their actual biodiversity.

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  • 39. At 5:29pm on 04 Dec 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #38

    The total length of all the motorways in the UK is substantially less than that of all the hedgerows. The UK countryside has seen substantial losses of many different types of species.

    Also a sufficient density of appropriately sited hedgerows are useful for helping prevent soil erosion.

    However the loss of species has not been uniform. One quirk of our civilisation is the way that salt put down on the roads during winter has affected the plants in roadside verges, there are now more maritime plants in our verges.

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  • 40. At 5:53pm on 04 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    JaneBasingstoke #39 wrote:

    The total length of all the motorways in the UK is substantially less than that of all the hedgerows.

    But they're considerably wider. My point is only that it's a "swings and roundabouts" thing, and the pessimists tend to focus on what's lost instead of on both losses and gains.

    The UK countryside has seen substantial losses of many different types of species.

    And it has seen substantial gains in many other types of species. Furthermore the ones that you are counting as "losses" are not extinctions but reductions in population. For example, there is probably a species of dung beetle (say) that specializes in equine products. No doubt its numbers have fallen dramatically since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Yet some people still ride horses, and where they do, those places dotted all around the UK no doubt still provide a home to that dung beetle.

    Meanwhile, there are probably some other species of insect that specialize in oilseed rape, and their numbers have no doubt risen dramatically.

    It's just change, that's all, and change is normal. That's how life works.

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  • 41. At 6:44pm on 04 Dec 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #37

    Biodiversity isn't good per se, we've established that with examples such as smallpox. Biodiversity does strongly tend to be good. But it is on a case by case basis.

    And case by case applies to biodiversity introduced by GM too. I don't really see that glyphosate resistance on its own really adds positively to biodiversity, not unless you like last year's crop growing in places you don't want it, and actual weeds evolving glyphosate resistance due to constant exposure. But increased drought or salinity resistance might be an improvement.

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  • 42. At 7:04pm on 04 Dec 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #33. wild50 wrote:

    "Contrary to the information in the column, opossums are doing fairly well in cities and suburbs...

    "without deer (white-tailed deer in this case) there is no lyme disease."

    Thank you for your comment, which adds more detail to my #23. Unfortunately Richard just parrots simplistic but false Green generalities instead of investigating the details, and that prevents him from understanding how opposums could survive or thrive in a "degraded" urban or suburban landscape or any of the nuances in the real world.

    Thus, Richard (nor, apparently, the authors who wrote the article he is promoting) could not dare mention the deer factor because that complicates their doomsday mantra. The North American white-tailed deer population is, of course, at all time historic highs, due to a combination of what Richard would call the 'degradation' of forests, a century of successful conservation, and changing human attitudes. Thus deer now thrive in many suburban areas, and in some areas, way too many of them. Unfortunately human attitudes have swung so far that the public can only see Bambi and does not understand the damage that too many deer can do... which in some areas does indeed reduce biodiversity.


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  • 43. At 7:13pm on 04 Dec 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #40

    "considerably wider"

    Bowman, I'm not sure you realise the difference between the total length of motorways and the length even of surviving hedgerows. For instance, a quick Google found this

    "Devon has more hedgerows than any other county in England. Line them all up, and they would span 33,000 miles."
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/content/articles/2005/10/26/hedges_feature.shtml

    "There are over 500 000 miles of hedgerow in the UK."
    http://www.hedgelink.org.uk/hedgerows/backgroundforteachers.html

    "The Department for Transport's "Transport Statistics Great Britain 2005" [PDF file; page 124] claims the total mileage of motorway is 3,523km or 2201.88 miles."
    http://www.cbrd.co.uk/roadsfaq/#4424

    Now maybe motorway cuttings and embankments are 200 times as wide as a typical hedgerow. But most of a motorway is going to have rather narrower verges.

    And that's treating motorway verge as equal to hedgerow. You do know you can estimate the age of a hedgerow by counting species, don't you?

    Hooper's rule, for example, estimates the approximate age of a hedge by counting the number of woody species per 30 yard (27m) stretch. The number of species is approximately equal to the age of the hedge in centuries."
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/british-natural-history/british-habitats/hedgerow/index.html

    Finally I remind you. It doesn't need to be either/or. Motorways are not responsible for the loss of hedgerow.

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  • 44. At 7:16pm on 04 Dec 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #40. bowmanthebard wrote:
    (JaneBasingstoke #39)

    RE: "The UK countryside has seen substantial losses of many different types of species."

    I most emphatically agree with your points here bowmanthebard.

    The eco-crisis industry promotes its Red List but there is no 'Green List' of species which are positive stories, and that list would be far, far longer.

    But there's much, much more funding for species or so-called species which are or can be portrayed as in trouble.

    As for the 'equine' dung beetle, wonder what they did before there were horses in that island?

    I am not familiar with the UK details. Have any species - REAL species - actually gone extinct in the last 50 years there? What ones are actually threatened with extinction?

    And I do mean extinction, not extirpation, but fo9r this question even extirpated species would be of interest.

    Given the history and population density of the UK one certainly would expect some 'threatened' species. There are always winners and losers in every change.

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  • 45. At 7:28pm on 04 Dec 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #40

    "substantial gains in many other types of species"

    Not really aware of this.

    Am aware of gains. Including the example I gave of maritime plant species finding a new home alongside well salted roads. And the local birders like the egrets.
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/l/littleegret/index.aspx
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/groups/basingstoke/news/215786/

    So gains, yes. "Substantial gains", to balance losses, no.

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  • 46. At 7:31pm on 04 Dec 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    35. JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "I have said in previous posts how some of the AGW sceptics I know in my personal life are into conservation. Well two of them are birders (like our chum CanadianRockies). And they make an effort to make their gardens bird friendly. In one case the effort definitely also extends to bee friendly and butterfly friendly."

    Caution: Overgeneralized and oversimplified statement following...

    Jane, the bottom line in making your garden 'bird friendly' is to maximize its plant/habitat diversity, and that almost always incidentally makes the area more bee and butterfly friendly.

    But a 'bird friendly' habitat full of cats is a cat feeder. And from what I have read, cats are the biggest problem for many small creatures in the UK.

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  • 47. At 7:46pm on 04 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    JaneBasingstoke #43 wrote:

    You do know you can estimate the age of a hedgerow by counting species, don't you?

    And I'd guess you can estimate the age of a suburban garden by measuring the height and variety of the trees there. -- So what? What has any of this to do with the simple fact that species advance and retreat as habitats and weather changes, as they both do constantly?

    In most of our gardens, greenfinches have been losing out terribly -- thanks to a succession of soaking summers and a disease that got its foot in the door because of those cold, wet summers. But as they die out, sparrows are making a big comeback, and that's something to celebrate. I love the sound of sparrows in the morning, and I didn't realize how much I'd missed it till I began to hear it again.

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  • 48. At 8:15pm on 04 Dec 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    JaneBasingstoke #45 wrote:

    So gains, yes. "Substantial gains", to balance losses, no.

    I'm wondering how that could possibly happen, unless you're counting the wrong things.

    Please do not be offended or annoyed as I remind you that individuals are individuals, and species are species.

    Are you saying there are fewer individuals, overall, in the UK of late?

    OR

    Are you saying there are fewer species, overall, in the UK of late?

    What do you think is being "lost" here?

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  • 49. At 10:16pm on 04 Dec 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #46

    That would be why advice on specifically bird friendly gardens have advice on what to do about cats.
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/gardening/unwantedvisitors/cats/birdfriendly.aspx

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  • 50. At 11:14pm on 04 Dec 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard
    (@CanadianRockies)

    The topic de jour is biodiversity. That isn't confined to extinctions. Drastic numerical declines affect many species in the UK.

    Here's some RSPB figures on reductions in bird numbers in the UK
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/decline/nationaltrends.aspx

    Bees and butterflies and mammals have also seen numerical declines.

    There have been local extinctions within the UK. I can't find a good link. The most obvious is the red squirrel. Most of the red squirrel deaths are down to squirrel pox, brought here with the grey squirrel, to which the grey squirrel had the opportunity to build up an immunity before it arrived. Some reds are showing signs of immunity so there are hopes to help the red squirrel with a vaccine.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7573535.stm

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