Climate change: 15,000 potential animal-to-species transmissions in the future

We provide evidence that in the coming decades the world will become not only warmer, but also sicker.said Gregory Albury, a biologist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who co-authored a study published Thursday in Nature (April 28, 2022).

By cross-checking climate models, data on habitat destruction and how viruses are transmitted from one species to another, this work paints an even bleaker trajectory for the planet’s future by 2070. And irreversible, even by limiting global warming. up to +2°C, the authors are concerned.

Their research, which lasted more than five years, for the first time revealed the mechanism in which ecosystem disturbance and disease transmission are intertwined. In total, 3139 species of mammals were counted – this class of animals is the carrier of a wide variety of viruses that can be transmitted to humans.

Over 300,000″first meetings“between species

More and more wild species are being pushed out of their natural habitat, which is being degraded by rising temperatures, rainforest regression, urban and cropland progression, and the movement of wild species. They are “emigrate“then to new territories, more favorable for their presence. Where they have more chances to intersect with hitherto unknown fauna, either autochthonous, or also foreign.”

With this geographical redistribution of ecosystems, there are more than 300,000 “first meetingsspecies that could interfere, i.e. double the current potential. By mixing for the first time, these mammals will form new communities, fertile ground for new crossbreeds of infections, especially viral ones.

The study paints a future “web” of viruses jumping from species to species and growing as the planet warms. It predicts at least 15,000 transmission of the virus between species. With the central role played by bats: these mammals are indeed a reservoir of many viruses that they store without developing disease themselves, but which can infect humans through the host animal – “zoonoses” in the origin of several epidemics such as Sras, Covid-19 or Ebola.

Winged, small, fast, they have great potential to spread around the planet and thus infect more “naive” species that are encountered for the first time. It is a more than alarming picture that we know that at least 10,000 viruses capable of transmitting to humans are currently circulating “silently” among wild mammals, the study highlights.

Too late to change the trend

How many will wake up and cross the human barrier? Will new families of viruses emerge? The study does not say this, but predicts areas of the planet where the mixing of fauna will be concentrated: tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, in places where the human population will also be denser in 2070. Specifically the Sahel, the Ethiopian Highlands and the Rift Valley, India, East China, Indonesia and the Philippines. Certain populations in Central Europe will also be concerned.

But the threat is more global, and climate change is so fast thatcreates countless dangerous zoonoses on our doorstep“, warns Colin Carlson, also a co-author and researcher at Georgetown University. He compares this process to the process “snowball“that we will shake things up. According to him, it is too late to reverse the trend, but it is necessary”recognize that global warming will be a major driver of disease and prepare our health systems for it“.

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