Warmer climates will force many mammals to leave their native habitats. On their way to cooler regions, they will encounter other species for the first time. These encounters could create at least 15,000 new virus infections among animal species by 2070, according to a study recently published in the journal. temper nature.
All of this development has begun and will continue even if the world can act quickly to reduce carbon emissions and prevent an even greater rise in Earth’s temperature, say the researchers behind the study.
We have identified a new and potentially devastating mechanism for the occurrence of diseases that could threaten the health of animals in the future. This threat also likely has consequences for our health, says study co-author, ecologist Gregory Albery of Georgetown University.
“The study clearly shows that the coming decades will not only be warmer, but also sicker,” Albury says.
The virus circulates in silence
Previous research has investigated how deforestation and wildlife trafficking spread diseases between animals and humans. The researchers behind the new report emphasized that there is little research into how climate change affects disease transmission.
The five-year study looked at 3,139 mammals. I have researched how animal movements change in different scenarios of global warming. The researchers then looked at how this, in turn, affected the transmission of the virus.
There are currently at least 10,000 viruses that can be transmitted from mammals to humans. These are viruses “quietly circulating” among land mammals, especially in the depths of tropical forests.
New meetings around the world
The researchers found that new contacts between different mammals could easily be multiplied. This can happen all over the world, but especially in tropical Africa and Asia. Continents that were already hot spots for deadly diseases have spread from humans to animals, or vice versa, in recent decades, such as influenza, HIV, Ebola, and the coronavirus.
It is also possible that higher temperatures lead to many of the first contacts between exotic animal species in inhabited areas. There, people may be susceptible to infection.
Among these populations, some viruses will easily be able to spread globally, the study says.
The Sahel, the Ethiopian Highlands, the Rift Valley, India, eastern China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and some European population centers are likely to be particularly vulnerable areas.
Threat from bats
Researchers stress that bats pose a particularly significant threat to the spread of viruses. The study was completed just weeks before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, as bats are believed to have played an important role in spreading the disease.
Bats are the only mammals that can fly. They are able to move much greater distances than terrestrial mammals. And they can spread disease on their journey.
Researchers believe that many bats are already moving. The risk of encountering these animals with other mammals is likely to be greater in Southeast Asia.
Even if the world were able to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions – something that still seems a long way off – it may already be too late to prevent mammalian evolution.
Even milder scenarios of climate change could lead to more transmission of diseases between species. Perhaps more than the worst case scenario. Slower heating gives the animals a better time to move.
can’t be prevented
Thus the researchers conclude that these first encounters are indeed occurring and will increase faster than expected until 2040. From there again, first contact between mammals will increase as well.
– This is happening now, and it is not possible to prevent communications – no matter how much global warming we get. So we must put in place measures to build health services so that we can protect both animals and humans, says Albury.
The researchers point out that although they only studied mammals, other animals can have zoonoses — infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. They believe that one should also look out for the threat posed by birds, amphibians, and even marine mammals. Melting sea ice means marine mammals are also mixing in new species.
Researchers stress that not all viruses will spread to humans or become epidemics of the coronavirus, but the number of viruses across species increases the risk of spreading to humans.
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